The Deal (2003)

“The Deal” is the first film in writer Peter Morgan’s informal “Tony Blair” trilogy, the three films following Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, along with largely the same creative team. The first in the trilogy, it centres on the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and the “deal” they had about Brown running for leader of Labour before Blair.

Peter Morgan is well known for making compelling scripts out of political affairs, for his great skill in drilling down to the emotional core of the people involved, making potentially complicated and overwhelming political situations easy to understand by relaying the essential emotional and personal truths of the people involved very clear. He certainly succeeds in doing so here, and the twin excellent performances of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, and David Morrissey as Gordon Brown, bring out the best in the already strong writing.

The pacing is notably strong; never dwelling, always moving, but never feeling like its jumping to important political moments, everything feels centred in character. It’s quite a short film, clocking in under ninety minutes, possibly related to the fact it was actually a television film, not a theatrically released feature. Peter Morgan strips away any sideplots and characters that it would be very easy to get caught up in for one so clearly as knowledge about politics as he, keeping everything focused on the relationship between Blair and Brown. A well-paced political film is a beautiful thing, as it wipes away nearly all the common flaws of the genre, keeping things from ever getting dull or bogged down in detail.

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I was impressed by how the film didn’t exactly fall into critique, let alone satire. It presents things presumably as they actually were, and even if it is a fair way from the truth – I wouldn’t know – it tells a compelling story of its own without an overt political agenda. Blair’s “Third Way” certainly is critical to the film, but it referred to obliquely. The focus isn’t Blair and Brown’s politics, but rather their personal relationship, and the power dynamics between them. Finding common, relatable humanity in political figures many find despicable is no easy feat, but Morgan excels at it. It also makes the film easily understood by those not particularly well-versed in British politics, at least in my personal experience.

It’s a strong, brisk, very well-told film, with fantastic dialogue and fantastic actors performing that dialogue. I give it four hot dogs, and a rabbit.

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