Released in 2003 by Channel Four, this made- for- TV film focuses on two idealistic Labour politicians who may or may not have brokered a deal as each sought to become Prime Minister. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown first met in 1983, and THE DEAL takes us on a breakneck tour of the next 11 years, moving through disastrous election results under Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock to the circumstances and aftermath of party leader John Smith's death. Like Foot and Kinnock, John Smith was a decent man, possessing more political savvy than either of the aforementioned leaders. He also had the common touch, and would doubtless have made a good PM had fate not struck a cruel blow. While his passing rocked the entire country, it also signalled the beginning of a new political age. Gordon Brown had been hotly tipped to become Labour Party leader, having been very much the rising star. Now, he faced stiff opposition from Tony Blair who also had an eye for this position.
Of course, parts of this film are entirely speculative; particularly the key conversation between Brown and Blair (known as 'The Granita Pact') which prompted acres of newsprint. We know that Brown came round to clearing the way for Blair to become Labour leader, but was it agreed Blair would step down after a pre-determined period and hand the reins of power to his ally? Peter Morgan's screenplay condenses all the activity and intrigue into 90 minutes, and while some viewers may feel that an additional half-hour would have been beneficial, this drama is entirely absorbing. Performance-wise, the two leading players (Michael Sheen and David Morrissey) are both excellent, the latter fashioning his own take on Gordon Brown, while Sheen - mildly criticised for mimicry - really does become Tony Blair; a role he would later reprise in Frears' remarkable THE QUEEN(more on that in the very near future).
With Brown facing the very real possibility of a leadership challenge in the Autumn, THE DEAL stands as a testament to that age-old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for'. Recommended viewing, even for those who don't follow politics too closely.