“The Special Relationship” is the third film in writer Peter Morgan’s informal “Tony Blair” trilogy, the series of films all written by Peter Morgan, worked on by largely the same creative team, and featuring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. This one focuses on Blair’s relationship with Bill Clinton, as well as the Kosovo War, and Bill Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky.
Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton isn’t as iconic or strong casting or performance as Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II was, but it’s still certainly a good one. Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton was also a strong casting, she does great work with what scenes she gets.
Conceptually, I found this film really fascinating. You don’t see these 1990s, post-1980s but pre 9/11 American politics depicted that much in cinema, and certainly not Britain and America’s political relationship. Morgan doesn’t drill the script down quite so hard on the emotional core of the story here as he did in the preceding two films. He does indulge in the political nuances, putting it kindly, and minutiae, putting it unkindly, more. I wasn’t a personal fan of this choice.
I think the film gets bogged down in following too many subplots. The Kosovo War, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Hillary Clinton’s political career, the rise of the Third Way…the thematic unification of them is weak, when it’s even there. Clinton and Blair’s relationship, as well as the comparisons and contrast between their respective marriages, felt more in-line with how the preceding two films centred themselves. I found the political material interesting personally, but I think it made the film feel like less of a coherent, singular feature, and more of a documentary styled affair, which I doubt was what Morgan intended. The dialogue also suffers from this. It’s more expository than emotive, like in the last two films.
I wish these Peter Morgan/Tony Blair films had a stronger end. Apparently there have been rumblings of a fourth film, but Peter Morgan is committed to his Netflix series “The Crown” for the next five years, so I doubt anything will come of it. Still, it’s certainly a good film, just not as strong as the last two. I give it three illicit tapes, and a lost blue shirt.