Relentlessly promoted as "The prequel to The Queen" on the DVD cover, this 2003 British TV production is seeing a curious reissue in order to capitalize on The Queen's Oscar attention last year, which saw Helen Mirren win a Best Actress Oscar and the film earn a Best Picture nomination.
The Deal is a prequel to The Queen only in the sense that it involves historical details that occurred before those in The Queen. It also involves the same writer, director, and star Michael Sheen, who also plays Tony Blair in this film. The movie involves succession to the position of British Prime Minister in the late 1990s, which found young guns Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both riding high in the liberal Labour Party, rapidly becoming the most popular party in the country and one which delivered a crushing defeat to the Conservative Party in the 1997 elections.
Blair and Brown (played awesomely by David Morrissey) take minor offices at the same time, then find they're in the right place at the right time to assume power after the tide turns against the Conservatives. Two great friends soon find themselves bitter enemies in a political battle, with much acrimony on both sides. It's a long and winding road to get to this point, but ultimately we get to what "the deal" in question is all about: If Brown gets behind his candidacy, Blair says he'll step down after one term as Prime Minister, then turn the reins over to Brown, and everyone will be happy. (The fact that Blair reneged on that deal is really just a footnote to the film; a new footnote is added to reflect the fact that Blair did finally step down in 2007, four years after the film was originally made..)
The Deal, as with The Queen, is barely about British politics at all. Rather it's really about the collapse of a friendship, and how politics helps in that destruction. Both Sheen and Morrissey are spot-on here, with Sheen's lilting voice the perfect counter to Morrissey's gravelly baritone. Though originally allies, the men seem to have little in common, and by the end they are clearly bitter enemies, though ones who are forced to cooperate in order to both achieve political gain. Power corrupts, as they say.
What doesn't work is probably due to the limitations caused by making a small-screen production, complete with clear spots for commercial breaks. The movie works its way through back rooms and back seats. There's little of the spectacle and majesty (no pun intended) of The Queen, just a couple of guys conniving their way to the top but mostly appearing to do so via telephone conversation. Not exactly the most spectacular use of screen time and kind of a waste of two pretty powerful actors.
Still, it's an interesting story, especially for us American outsiders, who normally find British politics about as interesting as cricket and soccer.
The DVD includes a commentary track and interview with Frears.
No deals, Mr. Blair.