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Deal, The (2003)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Deal, The (2003)
Granada for Channel 4, tx. 28/9/2003, colour, 76 mins
DirectorStephen Frears
Production CompanyGranada Television
ProducerChristine Langan
Written byPeter Morgan
PhotographyAlwin K├╝chler
MusicNathan Larson

Cast: David Morrissey (Gordon Brown); Michael Sheen (Tony Blair); Matt Blair (Ed Balls); Dexter Fletcher (Charlie Whelan); Frank Kelly (John Smith); Paul Rhys (Peter Mandelson); Elizabeth Berrington (Cherie Blair)

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The complex political and private relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from their first encounter in 1983, with particular attention paid to the deal they made regarding the leadership of the Labour Party following the death of John Smith in 1994.

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Already a controversial proposition (though made by Granada Television, ITV handed it to Channel Four following concerns about its subject), The Deal became a major TV event when it was broadcast a few days after a devastating by-election in Brent East, which lost the Labour Party a supposedly safe seat.

At a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair's reputation was being buffeted as never before, Stephen Frears made this vivid reconstruction of his rise to power - a crucial element being a deal he allegedly reached with his friend and rival Gordon Brown at Islington's trendy Granita restaurant shortly after the death of Labour leader John Smith in 1994.

While only Blair and Brown know for certain what was discussed, the general consensus is that Brown agreed to give Blair a clear run at the party leadership, in exchange for a promise that he would stand aside for Brown at a later date. This is the line taken by Peter Morgan's script, and it marks the culmination of a fascinating drama that traces Blair and Brown's careers from their initial election in 1983.

Or perhaps that should say Brown and Blair, as there's no doubt who's the senior partner. David Morrissey's dour, granite-hewed Brown is impatient with small talk and awkward with jokes, preferring intellectual muscle and rigorous conviction - something far less apparent in Michael Sheen's soundbite-driven, celebrity-spotting Blair.

But The Deal is primarily a character study rather than a political drama: many key players (John Prescott, Robin Cook) don't appear at all, and others (Margaret Thatcher, Neil Kinnock) are only seen in news footage. The third key role is played by Smith (Frank Kelly), whose prescient analysis of Brown's shortcomings overshadows the ensuing battle of wills and gives the final outcome a tragic inevitability.

Though Morgan and Frears insisted that they were scrupulously fair, the film is strongly slanted towards Brown, especially when it suggests that his insistence on waiting a decent interval before announcing his candidacy for the party leadership following Smith's death was a fatal mistake. By contrast, the Machiavellian Blair is on the phone to potential supporters almost as soon as he hears the news - and by the time of the Granita meeting, he holds all the aces.

Three years later, Michael Sheen would reprise his performance in Frears and Morgan's The Queen (2006). This time, their treatment of Blair was noticeably more sympathetic.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The new intake (2:34)
2. Scottishness (1:49)
3. Both barrels (3:17)
Production stills
Project, The (2002)
Fletcher, Dexter (1966-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
Morrissey, David (1964-)
Sheen, Michael (1969-)
Channel 4 Drama
Channel 4 at 25
TV Drama in the 2000s