The Brits run far ahead of the U.S. in terms of daring dramas that tear at political scabs, highlighted by last year’s controversial faux documentary “Death of a President,” which chronicled the fictional assassination of George W. Bush. While not as brazenly provocative, “The Trial of Tony Blair” engages in a similar flight of near-future speculation — darkly satirizing the outgoing British prime minister not only wrestling with lost power but facing extradition in 2010 for having been President Bush’s toady in drumming up the war on terror. Not bad, really, but most of the meat begins and ends with the title.
Robert Lindsay plays Blair with a smug sense of self-assurance that persists even as his world crumbles around him, despite warnings from his slightly shrewish wife (Phoebe Nicholls) that onetime admirers have abandoned him. For starters, he suddenly can’t get a call returned by Kevin Spacey, much less President Hillary Clinton — or Bono.
Occupying an enormous, comically empty office staffed by two former aides, Blair fusses constantly about his legacy (“It won’t be Iraq they’ll remember me for, will it?”), reminisces about his friendship with Bush (now “back in rehab,” we’re told) and experiences a waking, slow-motion nightmare about being marched off to the Hague, as inept new Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Peter Mullan) and others gradually see the political expediency in sacrificing him.
Writer Alistair Beaton’s contempt for Blair is almost palpable, and the shots — cheap or otherwise — at times feel a trifle silly. For starters, the movie would benefit immeasurably by losing the horror movie editing tricks and one especially heavy-handed dream sequence, all meant to convey Blair’s unsettling loss of control and status as well as the blood on his hands for supporting the U.S.’ misguided war.
By literally indicting Blair for the last half-dozen years of his leadership, Beaton and director Simon Cellan Jones administer a flogging with only slightly more subtlety than “The Passion of the Christ” — casting the former prime minister (who this week criticized the press, dubbing them “feral beasts”) as a piteous figure but not an especially sympathetic one, unable as he is, as captured by Lindsay’s wondering eyes, to grasp his own failings.
In that respect, Lindsay’s Nixonian take on Blair — down to the sweaty upper lip and bursts of expletives — is a far cry from the astute charmer depicted in “The Queen,” and if nothing else, the two movies should be viewed side by side to see the dreadful toll Iraq extracted on perceptions of the glib politician at home.
Payback, as they say, can be a real bitch, and political figures invariably bear the weight of their decisions. Still, “The Trial of Tony Blair” unintentionally does its namesake a favor — illustrating that whatever Blair’s crimes and misdemeanors, he’d be hard-pressed to appear pettier than his critics.