I’ve just watched The Special Relationship, a film about the close relationship between Tony Blair (the ex-prime minister of Britain) and Bill Clinton (the ex-president of the United States).
The film starred Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton, Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton, and Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair.
It was directed by Richard Loncraine and is the third and final film of Peter Morgan’s ‘Blair Trilogy’, which includes The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006).
I really enjoyed it. I have to start by saying that Hope Davis looked exactly like Hillary Clinton, and her portrayal of the former first lady was amazing. She has been nominated for an Emmy Award for her role, and I very much hope that she wins it. The other actors played their parts very well, and I was impressed with how authentic their accents were. They all got the mannerisms right too.
The film dealt with the Northern Ireland peace process, the war in Kosovo, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In the beginning we see Tony Blair in Washington, speaking to Bill Clinton’s special advisers. They are giving him lessons in how to win an election.
Clinton is excited by Blair because he thinks they are both alike (progressive, centre-left politicians) and sees Blair’s victory as part of a growing trend of centre-left dominance which is spreading around the world.
Centre-left politicians believe in universal healthcare, stronger rights for employees, more regulation of the financial market, more environment-friendly policies, and (in America) they believe in the woman’s right to have an abortion.
Blair is portrayed as a highly ambitious person (naturally) who either decided to move to from the centre-left to the centre-right, or was secretly a centre-right politician from the start. Maybe he just liked befriending powerful people? He struck up a wonderful friendship with Bill Clinton at the beginning, but to Clinton’s disappointment, he did the very same thing with George W. Bush once he became president.
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The special relationships
I loved the relationships between Tony and Cherie, Hillary and Bill, Tony and Bill, and Tony and his advisers (Alastair Campbell & Jonathan Powell).
Tony and Cherie
Cherie is portrayed as a smart, funny woman who isn’t too impressed with Bill’s infidelities; she is, however, impressed with the way Bill consults Hillary before he makes any major decisions. She has strong opinions and is always sharing them with Tony. They are both portrayed as adoring each other.
Hillary and Bill
Hillary trusts her husband when the Monica Lewinsky scandal begins, but feels betrayed once the truth eventually comes out. She is portrayed as being dignified and supportive.
Tony and his staff
Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell seem to know about every story in the media before it’s published, and they know about all the minute details of Blair’s trips and meetings. There is one scene where the three of them are sitting in a car as it enters the White House. Blair is seated on right side of the car, but they tell him to move over to the left side, because they know that the left door will be opened first.
Bill and Tony
Bill intervenes in the Northern Ireland peace process when it looks like Sinn Fein and the IRA are about the wreck the deal. Tony returns the favour when he publicly stands by Bill at the start of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The strength of their friendship, however, is tested by the deteriorating situation in Kosovo.
Blair believes that the NATO airstrikes are not effective, and tries to convince Bill to send in ground troops. Bill is reluctant to invade another sovereign country that has not launched any attacks on the United States. The film was showing us how Blair’s way of thinking (on Kosovo) was similar to George W. Bush’s way of thinking on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Blair gives a speech to the Chicago Economic Club, and he outlines a “doctrine of the international community” (which has come to be known as the “Blair Doctrine“). He said there were times when the international community had no choice but the intervene in the affairs of sovereign states.
He called for intervention in Kosovo, and was received with a positive response from the American politicians and the American media. According to the film, Bill Clinton was forced to increase America’s involvement, and eventually the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic agrees to peace talks.
The Clintons visit The Blairs at the end of Bill Clinton’s second term as president. Tony Blair apologises to Bill Clinton for giving the speech in Chicago, but Clinton says he doesn’t believe his apology is genuine. He also questions Blair’s true political ideology, and warns him against befriending George W. Bush.
In the last scene, we see the real footage of the Blair-Bush press conference in Camp David, where it’s obvious that Blair has ignored Bill’s advice.