A superior made-for-TV movie
Gena Chereck | Nebraska, USA | 03/21/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, let me point out that The Deal is technically not a "prequel" to the Oscar-nominated 2006 film The Queen, since this was actually filmed and then aired on Britain's Channel 4 three years prior. Both were written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, and both star Welsh actor Michael Sheen as politician Tony Blair; and I suspect that, had it not been for the success of The Queen, The Deal most likely would not have seen a US release. Which would've been a shame, since The Deal -- though not quite the rich, in-depth character study that The Queen was -- is actually a sturdy little teleplay, and a fascinating glimpse into the workings of UK politics.
The story concerns the friendship and rivalry between Members of Parliament Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they worked their way up the ranks of the Labour Party throughout the 1980s and into the '90s (they were considered the "opposition party" as long as the Conservative Party was in power); when their party leader, John Smith, suddenly died in 1994, both Blair and Brown were poised to take over. Though the pair had been united in their desire to "modernize" the Labour Party and put it back in power, the shrewd and friendly Blair was becoming convinced that he would be a more likely Labour candidate than the passionate, intellectual Brown to beat the Conservative candidate in the next election. So they supposedly struck a deal wherein Blair would run as the Labour candidate for Prime Minister: If elected, he would in turn give Brown unprecedented power as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then Blair would step down after his first term and let Brown take over as PM.
The script portrays the duo's conflict a bit simplistically -- the eager-beaver pretty-boy versus the moody man-of-substance -- and it seems rather biased in favor of Brown, painting him as a victim of the harsh truth that it really does matter how much you can appeal to people when you're going for the "top job." But then there's only so much you can show in 80 minutes; and besides, both Sheen (as a somewhat less sympathetic Blair than he played in The Queen) and English actor David Morrissey (outstanding as Brown) do their darnedest to bring whatever nuance they can to their roles. It also helps that the story is fast-moving and occasionally witty, with few (if any) moments that drag.
That said, the film doesn't spend much time explaining the characters' backgrounds or their political offices; fortunately, the DVD comes with brief text bios of Brown and Blair, as well as a charming 22-minute interview with Frears -- stuff I would recommend checking out before watching the movie itself. (NOTE: Though not rated, The Deal probably merits a PG-13 for a few instances of strong language.)"