USA and UK on HBO: The Special Relationship; Not-So-Special TV
The Special Relationship stumbles over the same roadblocks other ripped-from-the-headlines projects endure. Quaid gamely tries mimicking Clinton, but the performance brings to mind a half dozen impersonators during Clinton’s eight years in office. The steel gray wig and raspy voice leave Quaid helpless to leave his mark on the 42nd president.
You hope against hope Quaid won’t be forced to say “I did not have sex with that woman … Miss Lewinsky,” because the moment is permanently etched in our minds.
And yet that’s exactly what we see, as well as other greatest hits from the Clinton archives -- like Hillary‘s “vast right-wing conspiracy“ shtick.
The film doesn’t avoid the Monica Lewinsky affair. In fact, it takes up a large chunk of the narrative and makes the president look like an even bigger boob than we remember. We see Blair rallying by the side of his new friend and watch the Clinton spin machine hit overdrive in the hopes of chasing the story away.
Relationship doesn’t include a filmed sequence in which Bill Clinton first informs his wife of the affair, but it’s really besides the point.
The film reflects how the “special relationship” in question helped Clinton escape from the damage wrought by his pathetic urges.
Blair, by contrast, is a cross between a boy scout and a pit bull, a hyper-idealized politician who simply must do the right thing at all costs. It’s a minor miracle that Sheen can add layers to such a stiffly imagined portrait.
Hope Davis is nearly as potent playing First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The makeup team didn’t go into overdrive to make the actress look exactly like the current secretary of state. Instead, she captures the woman’s penchant for bare-knuckled rhetoric.
It’s hardly a shock to see the Clintons portrayed as a wonderfully balanced couple, twin rock stars who don’t sweat the occasional infidelity.
At times, Relationship feels like it’s pining for a 2012 "Hillary for President" campaign. The Blairs marvel at the “co-presidency” at work in the Oval Office.
“There’s something quite romantic about that,” says Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair, the prime minister’s saintly spouse.
Americans who recall Bill Clinton’s numerous escapades will find little romantic about their pairing.
HBO is becoming the go-to place for political dramas based on recent events, and the template is growing stale. The gentle leftward tilt. The famous actors portraying events still too fresh in our minds. The lazy use of news clips to patch the narrative together.
The Special Relationship suffers from all of the above, yet the dynamic performances of Sheen and Davis give the film a sense of purpose that may surprise some.
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