At first blush, it smacks of tawdry TV movie-of-the-week, docudrama fodder: two mid-level stars playing Bill and Hillary Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky mess.
But there’s a strong chance that “The Special Relationship,” the planned movie about President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be more class than crass, thanks to a name nowhere near as well known as the two leaders’: Peter Morgan.
Morgan is the British screenwriter and playwright responsible for such refreshingly intelligent fare as “The Last King of Scotland,” “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon.”
The Morgan formula is straightforward: take two characters at a moment in history, set up a personal conflict amid the bigger picture, toss in some fictional elements, line up great actors and wait for the accolades to roll in.
It’s not quite that easy to pull off. Morgan has succeeded largely because he writes smart scripts with a heavy emphasis on character, rather than caricature.
He’s been lucky enough to have his words interpreted by the likes of Forest Whitaker, whose very human portrayal of Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” made the Ugandan dictator all the more terrifying; and Frank Langella, who turned Richard Nixon into a tragic Shakespearean figure in “Frost/Nixon.”
Of course, it helps that Morgan also seems attached at the hip with actor Michael Sheen, who held his own against Langella’s Nixon as British talk show host David Frost, and played Blair in “The Queen” and “The Deal.” He’s expected to complete the Blair hat trick in “The Special Relationship.”
Sheen will play opposite Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton and Julianne Moore as Hillary Clinton – both seemingly unlikely choices, but strong actors. HBO and the BBC reportedly are in talks to co-produce the film.
“The Special Relationship,” really, could be the title any of the major works scripted by Morgan. Chances are the new movie, like the others, will tackle complicated characters and circumstances with a sense of context and nuance that’s all-too rare these days.
Then again, he’s never written about anybody quite like Bill and Hillary.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.