Trouble ahead

Ch. 4 telefilm puts Blair on 'Trial'

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair steps down later this year, he might hope his troubled involvement in Iraq will be coming to an end.

But in a new Channel 4 drama "The Trial of Tony Blair," it could be just the beginning.

The fictionalized and darkly satirical drama — from Hal Vogel and David Aukin's new venture Daybreak Pictures — is set in 2010 and sees Blair facing the prospect of a war crimes indictment at the hands of a specially convened United Nations human rights court.

The film aired Monday on Channel 4's highbrow digital channel More4 and is the latest in a series of political missiles launched by the broadcaster, which earlier this year courted controversy with the Bush assassination drama "Death of a President."

"I think all broadcasters should do this kind of thing," says Danny Cohen, who commissioned the show for Channel 4 and now heads youth-oriented sister channel E4.

"Channel 4 has a tradition of questioning power and being bold and forceful. We're often at our best when we do this," Cohen adds. "Sometimes I feel that there's a conspiracy of sameness in television, and what's needed is a quality of uniqueness."

Blair's character in this Alistair Beaton-scripted drama is obsessively trying to protect his own historical legacy while abandoned to the mercies of an international tribunal by a Hillary Clinton anxious to secure a second term in the White House. The drama comes from the same team that produced last year's "A Very Social Secretary," which offered a tongue-in-cheek look at the romantic misadventures of former U.K. home secretary David Blunkett, and sees veteran British actor Robert Lindsay reprise his role as the British prime minister.

Though the new project has its lighter moments, "The Trial of Tony Blair" is no comedy.

Lindsay's hauntingly plausible portrayal of the premier offers us a vision of a man spiraling downward, abandoned by former allies and in denial over his role in a deeply unpopular war.

"I felt sorry for Blair in the way that I always feel sorry for people who are under pressure," Lindsay says. "But I feel seriously angry with him. I think things (in Iraq) are going to get worse. I think we all feel very strongly about that."

Scriptwriter Beaton says: "A number of people say that you get better drama if you treat people as human beings."

He is unrepentant at the way his fictional characters may have shaped people's views of Blair.

"Are we guilty of skewing public perception? I hope so," he says.

Channel 4 has had a long history as a political irritant, but its pursuit of the Blair government over the issue of Iraq has been relentless.

Aukin says Channel 4 is unique in commissioning such controversial programming. "A political film like this just wouldn't get financed anywhere else, not in Germany, or France or the U.S."
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