I cannot imagine this excellent television drama appealing to American audiences, unless they take an intense interest in British politics, and even then, they would be advised to read up on the background of the Thatcher Tory government and the rise of New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair, and the incipient friendship and increasing rivalry between him and Gordon Brown. They would also be advised to switch on the subtitles, as the dialogue moves very quickly at times.
Despite a second nuanced performance by the remarkable Michael Sheen, "The Deal"--as another reviewer has observed--is far from being a 'prequel' to "The Queen". Nevertheless, director Stephen Frears has created a fascinating depiction of the two leaders who were to dominate British politics for thirteen years. He has also given us a glimpse into what, in Shakespeare's hands, might have been a single scene in one of his political tragedies.
"The Deal" presents Gordon Brown, beautifully portrayed by David Morrissey, as a man who is motivated politically by an earnest and zealous desire for reform; who holds the leadership of the Labour Party (and future as Prime Minister, if the party should ever come to power) as a cherished goal to be sought as a prize of honour. Fate intercedes in the form of the young, eager, charismatic and increasingly ambitious attorney, Tony Blair, whom the more politically experienced Brown befriends and mentors in the House of Commons. The director leaves Blair's motivations ambiguous though, only implying the moment when he decides to seize the power; whether he does so by chance or by design is left to the viewers to decide. David Morrissey's sensitive portrayal of Brown, however, reflects the wounded pride of a man who realises that his lifelong ambition is being usurped by an opportunist who values the party leadership only as a means to an end.
The devil in "The Deal" is Peter Mandelson (aka "The Prince of Darkness" in political circles), MP and Party Spin Doctor, who, in a change of allegiance, chooses Blair's easy charm over Brown's difficult dourness as the most likely winning ticket from the Opposition to the Government side of the House of Commons. The tragedy comes in retrospect, because the viewer knows that although both men achieved their aims--first Blair, and eventually Brown--in the final estimation, the prize, which they each coveted so dearly, disintegrated, leaving their respective reputations in tatters.
The subject of the dynamics of ambition, power and the role of the media is particularly relevant today, in light of the ongoing "phone hacking" scandal which is threatening to consume the political discourse in Great Britain, and has even had repercussions on this side of the Atlantic.