Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mr Jolly - Tony Blair and HRH

The Queen has a lot of things to intrigue. There is for a start the delicious sense that we are going to be privy to secrets of one of the world’s most famous, and famously dysfunctional, families. These are not to be secrets of the speculative kind or romantic notions. The writer Peter Morgan has sought to create an exactitude of detail about one of the famous narratives of recent history and claims to have succeeded. No one has rung him up to say that he’s got it wrong. Then again they wouldn’t would they. Engaging in a public argument with a mere meretricious observer is hardly the stuff of Royal life. The quiet seethe is their last, largely only, resort. And when Diana was killed it set off a lot of quiet seething.

Then there are the impersonations themselves. They vary in detail. Helen Mirren’s is the key. Without her doing a lookalike, soundalike job the whole enterprise would fall apart in its own lack of credibility. People worry about those sort of things. (I still remember some dill at an early performance of The Boy from Oz I attended yelling out about Todd McKenney's impersonation of Peter Allen: “Doesn’t look anything like him!"). Michael Sheen as Tony Blair seems to be note and gesture perfect but his slightly rotund appearance is at odds with Blair’s rather skeletal look. James Cromwell’s Philip gives all the arrogance full reign. He also has the best line. (“Have you seen the guest list?.... No…. Well don’t look. Its full of soap stars and homosexuals”).

A couple of points in the story were quite revelatory. The Queen having been forced back to Buckingham Palace by public outrage stops to inspect the mass of flowers at the gate. The camera lingers on one hateful message after another. HRH simply purses her lips. It had never occurred to me that so many of the messages could have been so viciously anti-House of Windsor. The film is generally fairly positive about Elizabeth and gives her a moment of respite in the incident with the little girl and the flowers.

You also know there have to be villains in this chamber opera. There are viciously nasty and probably well-deserved portraits of Cherie Blair, Alistair Campbell and, in absentia and momentarily, Princess Margaret. Some of the plot elements like the killing of the stag and the Queen’s reaction to it are brilliant interventions. Whether the Queen is capable of such a one-liner as“Well we wont hold that against him” which occurs early on is doubtful to me.

Which brings me to ask a question. What has happened to the hour long drama Frears made for Channel 4 about the rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It was made in 2003 and is titled The Deal. Michael Sheen also played Blair in that one. It’s time for one of the festivals to rescue that from its current oblivion especially as, according to a piece in the October Sight and Sound, the writer Peter Morgan is now working on a third episode about Blair and his relations with Bush and Clinton. Blair’s reputation for brilliant political management on show in The Queen would have to take a battering in any narrative about his relationship with the Texan buffoon. So when/if it happens one hopes that Frears is also on board and that he remembers he can be a consummate vulgarian when the need arises. Anyone who has seen his 80s TV film Mr Jolly Lives Next Door with Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall will know what I mean.

Or maybe someone should gather up all the director's TV stuff, virtually none of it ever screened in Australia and give us a real treat.

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