Clinton-Blair Years Focus of HBO’s ‘Relationship’

by | May 29, 2010 at 8:14 AM | HBO, TV News

Dennis Quaid and Michael Sheen in The Special Relationship (HBO)

Dennis Quaid and Michael Sheen in The Special Relationship (HBO)

By LYNN ELBER
AP Television Writer

LOS ANGELES — Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis, starring as Bill and Hillary Clinton in a new HBO film, have a civilized difference of opinion about a Monica Lewinsky-driven quarrel that was edited out.

Quaid thinks the clash should have remained in ‘The Special Relationship,’ which focuses on Bill Clinton and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Davis is relieved it was cut from the movie that debuts this weekend (including 9 p.m. EDT Saturday and 6:15 p.m. EDT Sunday).

“We shot a really good scene but I’m happy it was left out,” said Davis (‘American Splendor,’ ‘In Treatment’), who uses a wig, pantsuits and accent to convincingly evoke Hillary Clinton.

In a preview copy of the film, Bill Clinton is shown confessing to his wife that he lied about his dalliance with White House intern Lewinsky. Davis’ Hillary listens stoically, and the scene ends without the ensuing row that was filmed.

“It put them in such a vulnerable place. I don’t want to see them, I don’t want to see her, in that position,” Davis said. “We know all we need to know. We know how it wrecked his presidency and how hard it was for them to get through.”

Ultimately, she said, she thinks the filmmakers and HBO wanted to be sure the film stood up to scrutiny and avoided allegations of inaccuracy or treating the Clintons disrespectfully.

HBO said the shots that were trimmed wasn’t germane to the movie that is primarily about Bill Clinton and Blair.

Quaid, who once spent a weekend at the Clinton White House and golfed with the president, believes the confrontation was fair game and of dramatic value.

Watch Bill Clinton during a 1997 ‘Meet the Press’ Appearance:

“I think it captured the spirit of the relationship and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “People are fascinated by (screenwriter) Peter Morgan’s work because we get to be a fly on the wall behind closed doors.”

Quaid almost said no to the project because “I didn’t want to do an homage and I didn’t want to do an indictment of the guy.”

“It was really the writing … that convinced me to do it,” said Quaid, who dons makeup and hits Clinton’s raspy Southern drawl dead-on. But he was careful, the actor said, to avoid mimicking him a la the well-known ‘Saturday Night Live’ impersonation.

Morgan is in familiar territory when it comes to Blair: He wrote the Oscar-nominated script for ‘The Queen,’ about Blair and Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for the role), and wrote ‘The Deal,’ about Blair and fellow Labour Party rival Gordon Brown, who recently resigned as prime minister.

Michael Sheen takes his third turn as the famously charming politician, with Helen McCrory as his wife, Cherie Blair, whom she played in ‘The Queen.’ Richard Loncraine is the director.

The title of the film, which will be released theatrically outside the United States, refers to Winston Churchill’s characterization of the cultural and historical U.S.-Britain ties as a “special relationship.”

The drama focuses on political-spectrum soulmates Clinton and Blair in the mid- to late-1990s and how the Lewinsky scandal and the Kosovo crisis divided them. It ends with news footage of Blair striking up a new partnership with incoming President George W. Bush.

Blair’s subsequent support of America’s Iraq policy eroded his support at home, where some labeled him “Bush’s poodle” for backing the war that was unpopular in Britain.

Sheen said he was able to approach the man anew because the film looks at the Blair and his career “from a completely different point of view.”

Would he be willing to tackle a film about Blair during the Bush years? No, Sheen said, because ‘Special Relationship’ well explores Blair’s desire to influence U.S. foreign policy and his stalwart confidence in himself and knowing “the right thing to do.”

“All you’re going to see is a downward curve,” Sheen said. “All the choices have already been made. It’s like the note has been struck and all you’re going to hear is the note echoing.”

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