Review: The Special Relationship

It should come as no surprise after viewing The Special Relationship that it was originally produced for America’s esteemed HBO. The success of prior Peter Morgan-written films like The Queen and Frost/Nixon are surely what prompted a theatrical release in Australia, but it becomes quickly obvious that television was the correct domain for this rather flat retelling of the “special relationship” between US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair between the years of 1993 to 2001.

Returning to the role of Blair is Michael Sheen (Twilight: Eclipse), his third go around this particular role after The Deal and the Oscar-winning The Queen, and he brings back the bland every-man routine that he did each time before. He looks and acts exactly like Tony Blair, but that’s not terribly exciting to watch. Dennis Quaid (Far from Heaven) portrays Bill Clinton and at least he has a fire in his belly, but watching these two fine actors imitate famous heads of state is Sunday night TV fare at best, completely dull at worst.

Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon) is the director here, but he hasn’t been given a lot to work on with Peter Morgan’s screenplay. Separated into three distinct segments, the wars in Northern Ireland and Kosovo as well as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, The Special Relationship acts almost as three half-hour episodes of television strung together, but the movie never digs much deeper than a Wikipedia entry. It hits all the well-known historical moments with a slight – very slight – dash of personal intrigue.

Breaking out from the routine surroundings is Hope Davis’ (American Splendour) portrayal of Hillary Clinton. She reveals layers and dimensions not seen elsewhere in the film and it’s fitting that any scene involving her is substantially more interesting. Her story is so unknown and any insight is relished, but Loncraine’s film is not interested in her and that really is where the film goes wrong. There’s not much here that audiences, politically savvy I’m sure, won’t already know and what new knowledge there is to be had is all too brief and quickly pushed aside. Sheen, quite frankly, looks bored out of his mind here and Loncraine’s direction is flat and technically unadventurous. “Special” is definitely the wrong word to use to describe this relationship.


The Special Relationship is released nationally in Australia on the 5th August

Director: Richard Loncraine

Cast: Michael Sheen, Dennis Quaid, Hope Davis, Helen McCrory, Adam Godley, Chris Wilson and Mark Bazeley

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About Glenn Dunks

Glenn Dunks loves films, that we know for sure. As well as being a film critic for Trespass Magazine where his wildly unpredictable tastes you’ve grown accustomed to, Glenn is the creator and writer of film blog Stale Popcorn ( , film editor at Onya Magazine, has written for The Big Issue and Encore and has been heard on JOY 94.3. Glenn is based in Melbourne, is an active Twitterer (@stalepopcornau) and is and is particular fond of Australian, horror and queer cinema.