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They were called "the future" within the UK's Labour Party. For twelve years, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had risen through the ranks with the goal of modernizing a party that was a shadow of a former self. In 1994, their friendship turned into rivalry when the chance to lead the party presented itself to them. The Deal is the film version of that story: their friendship during their rise through party ranks, the rivalry that ensued and the dinner that decided their respective fates.
The Deal is headed by two fine actors playing two very real figures. Michael Sheen shines in the first of, to date, three performances as Tony Blair. Over the course of the film, Sheen plays Blair from first time MP to the man who holds the "big job" in his grasp and, as a result, his performance has an intriguing arch through it. Then there is David Morrissey as Gordon Brown, the man with "Labour leader" written all over him. Morrissey's performance has very much the same arch as Sheen's though towards the end, as paths diverge, Morrissey's performance becomes more moody if not downbeat. There respective performances are wonderfully contrasted in scenes such as their walks through London streets, their argument after Brown realizes that Blair intends to run for the leadership and the dinner where the film's title takes place. Together these two performances carry the film on its journey across over a decade of British political history as they meet first as office mates to friends and then rivals for power.
There is a fine supporting cast as well. Leading the supporting cast are Frank Kelly as Blair and Brown's mentor and Labour leader John Smith and Paul Rhys as Peter Mandelson who ultimately becomes something of a king-maker when the two become rivals for leadership. Important players in the drama include Elizabeth Berrington as Cherie Blair and Dexter Fletcher as Brown's aide Charlie Whelan. The supporting cast gives Sheen and Morrissery fine actors to bounce off of and make their performances better while being given a chance to shine themselves.
The film's production values are good, considering the film's low budget. The film was mostly shot on location which gives the film a strong sense of reality to it. This sense of reality is strongly heightened by the cinematography of Alwin Küchler, especially in the scenes set inside the halls of power at the film's climatic dinner scene. The film also makes fine use of its low budget by using a wealth of archive footage that showcases the events that shaped the rise of the films two protagonists that not only informs the viewer but gives the entire film a larger sense of scope. Last but not least is the score from composer Nathan Larson that, while sparsely used, makes a huge impact nonetheless. These various elements in front of and behind the camera, under the splendid direction of Stephen Frears. Frears direction and attention to the drama gives the viewer the feeling of watching history taking place in front of them. There are only a few instances where this sense of reality is broken such as if the viewer pays attention to the anachronistic cars during the sequences where Blair and Brown walk through London streets though I suspect most viewers might not even notice them. Overall though Frears direction, and the production values as a whole, work and work splendidly.
Last but not least is Peter Morgan's fine script. Real life dramas can often be dull but Morgan takes what could be a boring story of recent politics into a fascinating drama about two rising politicians. At its heart is not the politics of the two men but their friendship. It is a friendship built in a cramped office with a shared goal of modernizing the Labour Party. Their friendship is tested as personal ambitions and weaknesses turn into a rivalry that could either make them or destroy them forever. It all comes down to a simple dinner scene that is, despite us knowing its outcome, a fascinating few minutes where Morgan brings the journey to its climax. Along the way Morgan gives the actors fine dialogue that add a human dimension to this rise to power. The result is a fine script that illuminates two leaders and their rise to power.
The Deal then is an illumination of recent history. From the performances of Michael Sheen and David Morrissey as Blair and Brown, respectively, to the supporting cast and the production under the direction of Stephen Frears to Peter Morgan's script the film is a fascinating journey. It is the journey of Blair and Brown: their friendship during their rise through party ranks, the rivalry that ensued and the dinner that decided their respective fates.
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