Empty9-10:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8
Americans are at a disadvantage when they see "The Deal," a nearly 5-year-old British docudrama about a pact made more than two decades ago between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown. You have to be at least a casual follower of British politics to appreciate the enormity of the camaraderie and conflict between these two leaders.
If you rely only on the background and subtext of the movie itself, you end up with a good story -- but not a great one. It lacks the intensity of great drama, but it is a compelling enough political yarn. And you're bound to admire the work of Michael Sheen as Blair and David Morrissey as Brown.
Blair and Brown came to Parliament in 1984, the new faces of a moribund Labour party. They shared a small, windowless office and a vision for progress and change. They became fast friends, perhaps because each made up for the other's shortcomings. Brown was an eloquent intellectual, brilliant at strategy but prone to being moody, distant and introverted. Blair was bright and gregarious and particularly excelled at the art of politics.
After several years of struggling as the opposition party, they agreed that when the opportunity arose, Brown ought to be party leader. If Labour captured a majority of seats in Parliament, Brown would become prime minister.
The proposed arrangement was never signed or formalized. It was a promise between two friends and colleagues. Six years later, when party leader John Smith (Frank Kelly) died, Blair had a change of heart. He argued, correctly as it turned out, that he could appeal to more voters in the southern part of the U.K. and turn the tide for Labour.
The heart of the film -- its most stirring moments -- is the face-off between an ambitious but slightly apologetic Blair and an indignant Brown, who felt he had been double-crossed.
To avoid destructive intraparty warfare, Blair and Brown struck a new deal. Blair promised his old friend the position of chancellor and enormous influence in exchange for his support. Blair also promised to support Brown as the next prime minister, though Brown never dreamt he would wait more than 13 years for that to occur.
Peter Morgan, who penned the script based on the parliamentary record (and makes a cameo as a TV interviewer), invests this tale of competition between friends with heart and intellectual honesty. Veteran director Stephen Frears elicits measured performances but tips his hand in Brown's favor. As important as the film itself was the Morgan-Frears partnership that resulted last year in "The Queen."
Granada Television Productions and Channel 4
Executive producers: Andy Harries, Peter Morgan
Producer: Christine Langan
Line producer: Sue Calverley
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Peter Morgan
Director of photography: Alwin Kuchler
Art director: Malcolm Stone
Editor: Lucia Zucchetti
Composer: Nathan Larson
Casting: Leo Davis
Tony Blair: Michael Sheen
Gordon Brown: David Morrissey
John Smith: Frank Kelly
Cherie Blair: Elizabeth Berrington
Peter Mandelson: Paul Rhys
Charlie Whelan: Dexter Fletcher