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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
The Deal proves unfair to Blair
by Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter

The Deal is a Channel 4 drama about the alleged pact made between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown on the leadership of the Labour Party.

When the students of history come to study the rise of Tony Blair and his relationship with Gordon Brown, one rather hopes The Deal won't play a significant role in their studies.

David Morrissey as Gordon Brown and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair
Brown and Blair's relationship is in the spotlight
The title refers, of course, to the alleged deal between the rising Labour stars following the death of party leader John Smith.

Mr Brown would stand aside, it is said, for Mr Blair on the understanding that once in power, he would return the favour.

The film opens by quoting from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: "Much of what follows is true."

Click here to send your views on The Deal

Trouble is, beyond the news footage which provides a fascinating backdrop to the film and those sections culled from records of parliamentary and other speeches, the truth of the rest of it can only be known by those involved at the time.

To get round this difficulty, the film-makers have made a few crucial decisions of their own.

Namely that Mr Blair was, on arrival in Westminster, an irritating, fresh-faced little squirt who had to be brought into line by a dour intellectual Scot rooted in Labour lore.

As a result, Michael Sheen at first plays Blair in the style of Spitting Image's David Steel puppet: bounding along next to his far superior colleague like an over-eager puppy.

The actor later transforms Blair into something more sinister and cynical - cruelly betraying the man who did so much for him with swept back hair and a glint in his eye. Think Rik Mayall's Alan B'stard.

Elizabeth Berrington as Cherie Blair and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair
The deal sees Tony Blair portrayed as a "flighty careerist"
Indeed, much of the film is deeply unfair to Blair.

It underplays his own rise through the Labour ranks, insinuating that any success he had was all down to Brown anyway.

It credits him with almost no intellectual rigour of his own and is often deeply simplistic.

At one point, Blair is being made up before a TV interview and tells the make-up artist to take as long as she likes: after all "I always wanted to be an actor".

So there you have it: while Brown is still brooding as he mourns John Smith, Blair is plotting his future through an actor's eyes.

If the relationship is almost always over-simplified ie Brown is the dour Scot, Blair the flighty careerist lawyer, The Deal takes the stereotypes to the edge of farce, at times even causing belly laughs where none were intended.

Juddering bottom lip

There are some redeeming features however.

David Morrissey is excellent as Brown, having clearly studied his mannerisms in detail - the hand sweeping the hair back, the hulking walk.

Morrissey even picks up the slight juddering of the chancellor's bottom lip when he is angry.

But it is a bright spot in what is generally a pretty poor show.

Thousands of words have been used to analyse the complex relationship between Brown and Blair.

The Deal, sadly, isn't a valuable contribution.

The Deal was broadcast on Channel 4 on Sunday night.

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Did you see The Deal? Were you convinced by the characters? Did it give a real insight into Brown and Blair's relationship?

This debate is now closed. Please see below for a selection of your comments.

I disagree strongly with the above. Accepting the obvious, only Blair, Brown and a few others know the detailed truth. What the programme gave was an interesting representation that left me wondering who, or what and indeed were there any sources of inside information that they managed to draw on?

It made me wonder a great amount about what the state of affairs was. For example how did Blair manage to leap frog Brown who (my wife used to be closely involved at grass roots with the labour party) was in fact the natural successor? Did they really want a tory at the figurehead to conquer the traditional tory regions?

As factual who knows, as provocative drama it was excellent.
Alex T, UK

The timimg of the programme was totally opportunistic - especially when TB is having some difficulty. The programme was not presented objectively, instead it came across as to upstage someone who has lost out. Further, it completely ignores the leadership traits of a person who is now known to be a well respected international statesman.
Ravi Shankar, UK

I disagree with BBC Online's critical review of The Deal. Of course, in 90 minutes you can't show everything, so you can only get a broad understanding of the Blair-Brown relationship. But the broad traits - Islington-lawyer-newcomer vs. Scottish-dour-socialist - are fairly drawn.

I agree that Blair is treated rather too lightly, as if he stepped out of the wood-work to become Labour leader. More internal Labour intrigue would have been lovely, but sadly this is confined to Peter Mandelson and his fetching moustache. But on the whole, an impressive cast, well directed and a good understanding of the politics made this a good drama.

Finally, if Channel 4 shows intelligent, British-produced drama (and ITV was showing Boudica, same sort of thing)... then why are we paying a licence fee? The BBC should be doing this, surely.
Vitor Thoma, UK

David Morrisey's portrayal as Gordon Brown was superb. In fact, all the casting was good, apart from Micheal Sheen as Tony Blair. Was Sheen trying to make Blair look stupid? Was there any substance of truth to the part where John Smith hinted to Gordon Brown that Blair was the more likely future leader? If there wasn't any substance of truth to it, it is an insult to John Smith to suggest this.
Colin Hare, UK

The Deal may be a true representation of the facts but who can tell? Blair was presented at first like a fresh-faced, enthusiastic mover and shaker but was haunted by the fact that his lawyer friends were making loads of cash whilst he wasted away in opposition.

Brown was presented as having a grim personality but stong ideals. Mandleson is portrayed as a machiavellian. A man who is watching the big-picture. As a whole piece, The Deal was entertaining and the deal does make sense. After all, horse-trading regularly takes place in politics.
Alex Arthur, England

When Blair spots the EastEnder star in the restaurant, commenting that they are the ones with real power and eight million viewers each episode, sums it up. It now transpires that he is indeed wedded to shallow celebrity and fame. His deluded faux Churchillian stance on the Iraq War bears this out like nothing else. The fact that he can use this in an attempt advance his own career is far more shocking than anything this little drama can offer proving that truth often is stranger than fiction.
Brian Williamson, Britain

I thought The Deal was hysterical, I was on the floor laughing my head off half way throught it. The bloke that played Mr Blair was spot on.

Should Mr Blair resign (and I think he should). He should support Mr Brown as the public trust Mr Brown more than they trust Mr Blair.
Debra Baldwin, Scotland

It was entertaining, the two actors gave excellent performances which seemed to improve as the film went on (especially Blair getting flustered over dinner at Granita). Nobody can be sure that it was a realistic account of their relationship, and I think Brown was portrayed too darkly.
Alex, UK

I thought it was an entertaining piece of drama in its own right if you look upon it as fictional. However, I thought it was very unfair to Tony Blair, especially when we are led to believe that, rather than mourn John Smith, he was already plotting his leadership bid. Brown didn't come out of it that well either. Entertaining but should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
Michael, UK

It made a good drama but lacked credibility in many areas not least in showing Tony Blair with a laptop in 1983! Pehaps he is from a different planet after all.
Chris Binns, UK

An utterly fascinating insight into the relationship between on one side an unlucky political heavyweight who had the longstanding support of the late John Smith and on the other a vacuous greasy-pole climber who always had an eye on 'the big job' and the bigger stage.

To criticise it as historically inaccurate is perhaps ill-judged as it was billed as a drama with merely a basing in fact, rather than a dry political documentary.

Equally to condemn it as not being a "valuable contribution' to understanding the complex relationship between Blair and Brown" on one hand and then on the other conceding that the "truth . . . can only be known by those involved at the time" shows an enormous contradiction by the BBC's review. Bravo Channel 4 for some original and brave thinking, it was a mouth-wateringly impressive programme.
Michael Bruce, UK

Your review contains a reasonable comment, that the portrayal of Tony Blair was unfair, but I don't agree that "The Deal" was, as you conclude, "generally a pretty poor show". As drama, it worked very well and both leading performances were gripping. Who knows what deal was privately agreed between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? The show certainly suggested that Mr Brown made a sacrifice for the good of the Labour Party - that seems credible and the filmmakers brought the viewer to the dramatic conclusion with skill and a sense of growing tension between two intelligent and ambitious men. I thought "The Deal" was a job well-done and I hope to watch it again.
John Cabrera, UK

Better than I expected. And clever to paint "the deal" as something pretty unspecific. But did you notice the one big howler? When Tony Blair first meets Gordon Brown in the House of Commons office they were to share - in 1983 - Blair was working on a laptop computer. They weren't invented until several years after.
Mike Cresswell, UK

Actors excellent, direction excellent, editing excellent and wicked timing from Channel 4 to put this programme out on eave of Labour conference and Hutton enquiry. Entertaining, inventive and forceful - forget Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things, Stephen Frear's The Deal is a better use of film.
P.J.Durham, UK

The Deal could only be seen as a charicature of events, from a grinny eager beaver Blair to an emotionless lizard-man Mandelson. For two men apparently held in such high regard by their party, it's a shame the drama made Blair and Brown look like two schoolboys squabbling over who played sheriff and who played deputy...

The Deal was the best British drama to be broadcast in the last five years. People who say it was simplistic are missing the point: everything needed to be crystalised to cram so much in to just an hour and a half of drama. It was like watching a magnificent, camp pantomime. I loved it.
mark, England

I think The Deal was excellent. I never trusted Blair and Brown to begin with and this showed their true colours in my opinion. Well done C4!
Ben, UK

Woeful. Served a purpose by gathering together all the rumours & gossip that have surrounded the two men since their rise to power. The attempts to impersonate the protagonists left me waiting for a Bremner-style sing-along at the end.
Glen, UK

Excellent drama. Uncomfortable for Blairites to view. The faustian pact was exposed as Labour sold its soul to gain power. In true tradition, the pact is now being cashed in. Next time Labour might not survive to return from the wilderness.
Graham, UK

Entertaining, but Godfather-lite. And Blair makes a poor Pacino.

Not fair to say that Blair is portrayed as a fool against Gordon's mighty intellect. Blair is portrayed from the start as bright and more savvy than Brown, if less intellectually high-brow.
Ian, UK

Morrissey was brilliant at Brown (the accent faltered only occassionally) but did it give us an insight into the Blair/Brown relationship - I'm not so sure. Brown has kept his head low and his dignity in the latest government chaos - I think John Smith would have indeed been proud of him. Dour? - maybe. Integrity? - most definitely! I don't think this drama has done Tony Blair any favours - fiction or not.
Mrs K Fitzgerald, Scotland

I saw it. It wasn't worth it for the insight into Blair and Brown (and it wasn't that nice about Brown, either). The only thing of interest was the historical news clips.
Jeremy, England

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