The Special Relationship
Promotional poster
GenreBiographical drama
Written byPeter Morgan
Directed byRichard Loncraine
Music byAlexandre Desplat
Country of origin
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers
  • Frank Doelger
  • Tracey Scoffield
  • Ann Wingate
CinematographyBarry Ackroyd
EditorMelanie Oliver
Running time93 minutes
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseMay 29, 2010 (2010-05-29)

The Special Relationship is a 2010 biographical drama television film directed by Richard Loncraine and written by Peter Morgan. It is the third film in Morgan's informal "Blair trilogy", which dramatizes the political career of British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997–2007), following The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006), both directed by Stephen Frears.

The first drafts of The Special Relationship dealt with Blair's special relationships with U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. However, Morgan excluded the Bush scenes from subsequent drafts (thus ending the narrative on January 20, 2001) because he found the Blair/Clinton dynamic more interesting. Morgan intended to make his directorial debut with the film but backed out a month before filming began and was replaced by Loncraine. The film was produced by Rainmark Films and backed by HBO Films and BBC Films.

The film stars Michael Sheen reprising his role as Blair, Dennis Quaid as Clinton, Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton, and Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair. Principal photography on locations in and around London, England ran from July 20 to September 4, 2009. The film was broadcast on HBO in the United States and Canada on May 29, 2010,[1] and on BBC Two and BBC HD in the United Kingdom on September 18, 2010.


The film is set between the years of 1997 and 2001 and depicts the UK–US Special Relationship between Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bill Clinton. Executive producer Christine Langan said of the plot, "The film's time frame goes from 1994, when New Labour was taking lessons from Clinton's people, to 1998 and the end of Kosovo. It focuses on the international activities of Blair as prime minister and what he learns from his American ally. They're brothers in arms, but Clinton is weakened by the Lewinsky scandal in the middle of it all, while Blair strengthens his position, moving from being something of an acolyte to equal to moral superior, post-Kosovo."[2]


Adam Godley plays Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, who plays a role in the Northern Ireland peace process endorsed by Blair and Clinton.[citation needed] Ten-year-old actor Max Cottage portrays the Blairs' eldest son Euan.[17] President of France Jacques Chirac (1995–2007) is portrayed by Marc Rioufol.[18] The producers were having difficulty casting the part in March.[19] Mark Bazeley reprises his role of Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell from The Queen, and background actor Chris Wilson portrays Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. David Morrissey, who played Brown in The Deal, was asked to reprise the role, but declined because Brown appears in only one scene.[20] Instead of the producers casting an actress to play Monica Lewinsky, archive footage is used.[8]


Peter Morgan's first production featuring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair was the Channel 4 single drama The Deal (2003), which dramatized the rise of Gordon Brown (David Morrissey) and Blair when they were new Members of Parliament. The drama depicted their rise in the Labour Party culminating in the 1994 leadership election. The Deal's critical success led to a theatrical film, The Queen (2006), about the impact of the death of Princess Diana on senior members of the Royal Family and Prime Minister Tony Blair. The film featured Sheen as Blair in a supporting role, in what critics noted was a more subdued portrayal than in The Deal.[12][21] Before Morgan began writing the script for The Special Relationship in late 2007, there was speculation that the film would be produced by Left Bank Pictures and BBC Films, where the Deal and Queen producers Andy Harries and Christine Langan were based; Langan told in October 2007 that Morgan had "promised" the script to her and Harries, though no contracts had been signed.[21][22]

Three films about Blair had been planned since The Deal.[23] Morgan had considered writing a film about Blair during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as the subject matter for both the second and third film.[23] He eventually decided to do a film about the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States, specifically Blair's differing relationship with Clinton and George W. Bush.[12] Harries said that Morgan believed the transition from Clinton's to Bush's presidency was a "pivotal moment" in the special relationship.[23] Morgan decided to narrow down the scope of the film to just Blair and Clinton, since he believed people tended to have forgotten about the state of politics prior to the September 11 attacks, a time that was "really, really interesting".[9] Langan believed that Morgan found Clinton to be "a more interesting study than Bush" and that New Labour aped the Clinton administration at its inception.[19] Morgan began his research into the Blair/Clinton relationship after learning that the two had been alone together when Al Gore conceded defeat after the 2000 presidential election. His research took him to Washington, D.C., where he interviewed members of Clinton's cabinet, and Clinton's hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas.[3]

In late 2008, Kathleen Kennedy signed on as an executive producer. Ann Wingate, Frank Doelger and Tracey Scoffield are producers, and Andy Harries, Christine Langan and Kennedy are executive producers. HBO Films is producing, with co-production funding coming from BBC Films.[13][24] Morgan signed on to direct the film—making his directorial debut—as the director of The Deal and The Queen Stephen Frears was "Blaired out".[8][9][23] In June 2009, shortly before filming began, Morgan pulled out of directing the film.[24] Morgan's agent told a Daily Telegraph diary that Morgan wanted to concentrate on writing and producing, but did not rule out directing in future.[25] Costumes were designed by Consolata Boyle, whose work on The Queen won acclaim and awards.[26] After a week of read-throughs and rehearsals, filming began on July 20, 2009[10][24] and ran until September 4.[27] Filming locations included Langley Park, the Emirates Stadium and the Westminster Central Hall. Brocket Hall and the Loseley Park mansion doubled as Chequers, the Prime Minister's country retreat.[28] Scenes set in the Oval Office were filmed on a set built on E Stage at Pinewood Studios. E Stage also housed a recreation of the White House gardens and colonnade outside the Oval Office.[28][29] Several other locations were used, in conjunction with the UK Film Council's regional agencies Film London, Screen East, and Screen South.[30]

Loncraine continued directing pick-ups into October; background scenes were shot in Washington, D.C., on locations including Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue.[31] During post-production, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd created two versions of the film with different aspect ratios; one has a 16:9 aspect for broadcast on HBO in the United States, and the other has a 1: 2.35 aspect for worldwide theatrical release. After filming the cinema version in the larger format, Ackroyd trimmed the picture for the television version using a pan and scan technique.[28] The film's score was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who also worked on the music for The Queen.[2] Final post-production mixing was carried out at Twickenham Film Studios, and was scheduled for completion in the second week of March 2010.[32]


In the United States and Canada, HBO first broadcast the film on May 29, 2010.[1][33] Roadshow Films released the film theatrically in Australia on August 5, 2010 after acquiring the rights at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.[34][35] The film debuted at eighth position at the box office in its opening weekend, taking $169,214.[36]

BBC Two broadcast the film in the United Kingdom on September 18, 2010, as part of a drive to screen more BBC Films productions on the station.[37][38] It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on September 20, 2010.[39]

Critical reception

The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% out of 21 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.8/10.[40] Metacritic gave it a rating of 67 and stated it has received "generally favorable reviews".[41]


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Movie/Mini Series Nina Gold Nominated [42]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated [43]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Dennis Quaid Nominated
Michael Sheen Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Hope Davis Nominated
Best Writing of a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Nominated
Best Editing in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Makeup/Hairstyling in a Non-Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Made for Television Movie Christine Langan, Kathleen Kennedy,
Frank Marshall, Peter Morgan,
Andy Harries, Frank Doelger,
Tracey Scoffield, and Ann Wingate
Nominated [44]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Dennis Quaid Nominated
Michael Sheen Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Hope Davis Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Peter Morgan Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated [45]
Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television Dennis Quaid Nominated
Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television Hope Davis Nominated
Women's Image Network Awards Actress in a Mini-Series / Made for Television Movie Nominated [46]
British Academy Television Awards Best Single Drama Production Team Nominated [47]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Dennis Quaid Nominated [48]
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Hope Davis Nominated
Guild of Music Supervisors Awards Best Music Supervision for Movie of the Week Evyen Klean (Also for The Pacific,
Temple Grandin, and You Don't Know Jack)
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries Dennis Quaid Nominated [49]


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