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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3 thoughts on “Review: The Special Relationship

  1. Glenn, I agree Hope Davis is excellent, but disagree with you on the male leads, Michael Sheen is great as Tony Blair, but I found Dennis Quaid so distracting as Clinton, was ready for him to whip out the saxophone any moment!

    I think you are a little harsh on this film (which really is a made for TV movie- and perhaps would have been a far better mini-series) I found it interesting and I thought the script was quite clever, for me the weakness was completely Richard Loncraine’s direction- he travelled way too close to grown-up bromance for my liking.

  2. Ja, I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you as well, Glenn. I really enjoyed this film and thought Sheen was pitch perfect and Quaid (though his accent grated) managed to bring a little of that (in)famous Clinton charm.
    Hope Davis was wonderful, but I don’t think it’s to the film’s detriment that the story wasn’t about Hillary (that’s great fodder for a different film). What makes this series of films/tv movies so intriguing is that it’s breathing new life into British political history. So seeing the British take on the Clinton/Blair dynamic is downright fascinating!

  3. Yes, Sheen is fine but he’s played this – role three times now and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that maybe, just maybe, there could be something to it. Looking like a historical figure doesn’t allow you to just coast. Or, that’s my theory anyway. :)

    Please don’t give Peter Morgan more ideas for modern political recreations, please. I’ve had enough! ENOUGH!

    Beth, if this had been screened on TV then I probably would have been able to accept it more, but it is being exhibited in cinemas and on the big screen it just doesn’t cut it, sadly.

    But, apparently I’m in the minority here.

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