Westminster Soap Operas: New Labour, Ancient Power
Mrs. Pritchard purports to have its main character's purity as the beating heart of the series, a woman whose inherent goodness is suddenly discovered by a nation yearning for more than the usual Labour vs. Tory slugfests. But this female Obama is as clueless as they come, naively taking her key supporters and cabinet members at face value while they connive and cover up, and while her family disintegrates. Oh, it's a sloppy affair and the viewer never suspends disbelief.
The Deal, on the other hand, feels like the real thing. The best scenes are filmed in claustrophic spaces - the tiny shared office of newly-elected MPs Brown and Blair, the stifling and smokey train coaches to Scotland, the middle class kitchens and sitting rooms of the English, and the angular pubs and wine bars of London. This isn't soaring politics; Frear only shows that in clever video clips. This is deal-making or, more accurately, a fine portrayal of the kind of personal compromise that is a necessary ingredient to attaining political power. As Jim Wolcott said:
...for an American audience, the internal battles of the Labour Party are as obscure and muffled as the rustlings in a coat-check room. Yet my interest never flagged and I admired how Morgan and Frears communicate through informal scenes of joshing in close chambers and primping for the spotlight how policy, personality, and local/national politics subtly interweave, and how loyalty or the lack thereof are revealed by the angle of someone's head or the height at which they hold their drink glass.
It's a very mature view of the political process, and was particularly stirring given the debate in this country's Democratic Party about what constitutes a real liberal or a true progressive in the run-up to the 2008 election. And it shows too the degree to which, even at the highest levels, politics is so damned personal.