Stephen Frears will probe the roots of the most crucial and controversial relationship in current British politics, between prime minister Tony Blair and his chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown, in a telepic for the ITV network.

Frears has agreed to direct “The Deal,” scripted by Peter Morgan, which is scheduled to shoot later this spring, subject to casting. Producer is Christine Langan for Granada.

In 1994, Blair and Brown, then close allies and the two strongest candidates for the vacant leadership of the opposition Labor Party, met for dinner at Granita, a trendy Italian restaurant in north London. That meal has since entered political legend as the moment when Brown pledged to throw his support behind Blair, in return for Blair’s promise to step aside during his second term as prime minister and let Brown take over.

This was the defining moment in the creation of the modernizing New Labor project, which swept the party into power in 1997 after 18 years in the wilderness. But since the Blair government was re-elected in 2001, tensions between the two titans have degenerated into poisonous hostility, as Blair has shown no inclination to honor their alleged pact and the ideological gulf between them has widened.

“The Deal” will start and end with the Granita dinner, and dissect the complex friendship that led up to it between the two contrasting personalities — Brown, brooding and intense, originally the senior of two, and Blair, the charming crowd-pleaser who overtook him. Granada drama chief Andy Harries says Frears brings “real class” to the project, which, like previous Frears telepics, might find a theatrical life via the international festival circuit after its U.K. TV premiere.

BBC chief wants Brits in BAFTA spotlight

BBC Films chief David Thompson is calling on BAFTA to create a couple of new awards specifically for British actors. “I think BAFTA has become too Oscar-centric,” he argues. “If you are an actor in a small British film, you can’t get noticed.”

He cites Martin Compston in “Sweet Sixteen,” Chiwetel Ejiofor in “Dirty Pretty Things” and Samantha Morton in “Morvern Callar” as thesps whose critically acclaimed performances (in BBC-backed movies) missed out when this year’s nominations were announced Jan. 27. Of course, BAFTA has never been shy of celebrating British actors in Hollywood movies: Daniel Day Lewis, Michael Caine, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alfred Molina picked up nods, but none of them for British films.

At the moment, BAFTA has two jury prizes reserved for Brits — best Brit film, and best newcomer. But actors are not eligible for the newcomer award.

“I don’t want to detract from what BAFTA has achieved in raising its profile here and in America, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of celebrating British films,” Thompson says. “There’s a growing concern among many people I speak to that the categories have become unbalanced. But by creating new awards for best actor and actress in a British film, BAFTA can have its cake and eat it.”

‘Thunderbirds’ flies into unknown territory

Working Title’s determination to pack the cast of “Thunderbirds” with complete unknowns is confirmed by the list of actors now cast to play the Tracy brothers. Philip Winchester (an unnamed militiaman in “The Patriot”) plays Scott, Lex Shrapnel (a Russian sailor in “K-19: The Widowmaker”) is John, Dominic Colenso (fresh from an invisible role in BBC mini “The Lost Prince) is Virgil and Ben Torgeson (no previous identifiable roles) is Gordon. One brother, Alan, remains to be cast. But at least their dad is vaguely familiar — Jeff Tracy, paterfamilias of the Intl. Rescue organization, will be impersonated by Bill Paxton. Sophia Myles and Ron Cook, as previously announced, play Lady Penelope and her butler Parker. “Thunderbirds,” directed by Jonathan Frakes, starts shooting in March.

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