“The Special Relationship”
Wed, May 26, 2010 (6:48 p.m.)
- The Special Relationship
The great thing about Michael Sheen’s performances as Tony Blair is how effortless and non-showy they are. Helen Mirren justly won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the 2006 feature film The Queen, but Sheen’s performance as Blair was nearly as impressive. The Queen marked Sheen’s second go-round as Blair, following the 2003 TV-movie The Deal, and now he’s back for a third time (along with writer Peter Morgan) in The Special Relationship (HBO, May 29, 9 p.m.), which explores Blair’s connection with Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) during their overlapping tenures as heads of state in the late 1990s.
The unforced naturalism of Sheen’s portrayal is especially noticeable in Relationship because Quaid gives such a cartoonish, miscalculated performance as Clinton, with an exaggerated Southern drawl and husk. Even his look, with slapdash makeup and a poofy wig, is silly. It’s a marked contrast not only to Sheen as Blair, but also to Hope Davis in a classy, restrained turn as Hillary Clinton.
Quaid’s performance aside, the movie is unfocused, covering Blair’s peace efforts in Northern Ireland, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the bombing of Kosovo. Morgan never seems quite sure what he wants to say about Blair and Clinton, and while he’s still adept at wringing drama from procedural details, the movie lacks the emotional resonance of The Queen. As good as Sheen is as Blair, there may just not be any more aspects of the man’s life that deserve their own movie treatment.