The Deal

B+

The Deal

In screenplays, teleplays, and plays like The Queen, Last King Of Scotland, Longford, and Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan has shown a talent for making history come alive by unearthing the humanity behind seminal moments in our collective past. Morgan puts his authorial stamp on period dramas by exploring how thorny, contradictory relationships helped shape the world we live in. The 2003 television movie The Deal marked the beginning of Morgan's relationship with The Queen director Stephen Frears and his twin muses, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and actor Michael Sheen (who will be playing David Frost in Ron Howard's upcoming adaptation of Frost/Nixon). The Deal's cover crows "Michael Sheen is Tony Blair," and with good cause. The thespian has left such an indelible mark on the role that to much of the American public, Tony Blair is Michael Sheen, an identity much more dignified than his gig as George W. Bush's fancy-talking sidekick in ill-fated foreign-policy misadventures.

The Deal dramatizes the revitalization of the Labour Party through the bond between Blair and Gordon Brown, played by David Morrissey. The two are a study in contrasts: Morrissey—bloated and a long way from Basic Instinct 2, thank goodness—plays Brown as a brooding, intense dark cloud of a man, stubborn and unyielding, while Sheen oozes oily, pragmatic Clinton-esque charm. The two begin as friends, officemates, and allies in the struggle to transform the Labour Party's image as the loveable losers of British politics, but they become fierce rivals when they compete for leadership of their party.

The conflict between a dour career politician and a flashy young striver isn't as sexy as the death of a princess and the ambivalence of a queen, but there's nothing didactic about The Deal, which leavens heady political drama with wry, acerbic humor. Morgan, Frears, and the stellar leads never let Blair and Brown devolve into dry, bloodless vehicles for opposing ideologies on reviving their party. Morgan reportedly plans on finishing his Blair trilogy with a film about the politician's "special relationship" with Bush. Like the two that preceded it, that film would certainly appeal to an audience far beyond political wonks.

Key features: An amusingly cantankerous interview with Frears and a hushed, sleepy, mildly educational audio commentary from Morgan and producer Christine Langan.