Great political movies (No18) In the Loop

There is a long history in Britain of trying to turn sitcoms into movies and failing miserably. The 1970s seemed by the height of this trend, with adaptations of Dad’s Army,  Are you Being Served, Steptoe and Son, Porridge and On the Buses. The one thing all of these movies had in common, was that they were uniformly terrible. Very few managed to survey the transition to film without losing the wit and charm of their TV originals. Strangely this trend never really crossed the Atlantic, as the Americans never saw the need to try to turn Taxi or Cheers into 90 minute cinematic jaunts. Therefore when Armando Iannucci revealed that he was turning his brilliant television political satire ‘The Thick of it’ into a film, I wasn’t filled with hope. However luckily it turns out I was mistaken as the resulting product is every bit as good as the TV version.

One thing that might puzzle people who’ve seen the original, is that while it features most of the cast of the ‘The Thick of it’, they all play completely different characters and roles, and this is slightly disconcerting at first. It’s the equivalent of going to see a Friends movie where Matt Le Blanc doesn’t play Joey but a similar character with a different name. The only exception to this is Peter Capaldi who returns as foul-mouthed Spin Doctor Malcolm Tucker. Freed from the BBC censorship rules he takes swearing to new and inventive heights as he progresses through the film, insulting and attacking everyone in sight.

The movie satirizes the run up to the War in Iraq, and the media management that went on behind the scenes, as Western governments tried to convince the world that they were going after Saddam because he had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Here the middle Eastern country is unnamed but the parallels are clear.

The film centres on hapless Minister for International Development, Simon Foster. If information is power than he’s very powerless indeed as he stumbles through the film perpetually confused by whats going on around him.  After straying from the party line, giving an interview where he states that war is unforeseeable, he is packed off to Washington to liaise with the Americans. There he compounds his mistake by declaring that “To walk the road of peace you have to climb the mountain of conflict”. He becomes a pawn in a game played by both hawks and doves as the UN vote on war approaches.

With a bigger budget comes bigger guest stars, so a whole host of American actors are brought in to supplement the original cast. It’s always a risk when you introduce new actors into an established format but James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy seamlessly slot right in as if they’d always been a part of it.

While many will delight in Tuckers profanity riddled rants others will enjoy the rest of the script which is peppered with one liners. David Rasche in particular has some great scenes. For anyone who remembers his turn in mid 80s cop spoof Sledgehammer, then his turn here as the quietly sociopathic Linton Barwick is a genuine revelation. The part where he quietly out menaces Malcolm Tucker is a fantastic piece of acting by both of them.

The recurring theme of the film is the fact that knowledge is power, and whoever can control the flow of information controls reality. To this end huge amounts of time is spent trying to spin the media in various directions and change their perception of important events. Communication (or lack of it) dominates proceedings, but despite the vast range of technology now available to facilitate this, misunderstandings and confusion rule. Because the film is about such a specific event it might not age particularly well, but that’s always the risk with cutting edge political satire. This is one of the best politics films and best comedies of the past decade and I highly recommend it.

Here is the trailer for In the Loop:

For a full list of great political movies I’ve reviewed click here

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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8 Responses to Great political movies (No18) In the Loop

  1. Sold. How long before it hits stateside? Or is that too much to hope for? LOL.
    FYI: Madison, Wisconsin + 14 AWOL Democractic State Senators + 25,000 and growing people protesting in the streets = “good times” in American Politics

      • I’m going to show this to my students in conjunction with the documentary “The control room” which looks at the differences between news agencies coverage of the War on Terror.

        I don’t know if you saw in the press today but it turns out that the ‘Diplomat’ who shot two men in Pakistan was actually a CIA agent. The story broke over here yesterday but as far as I can tell was kept out of the US media for 24 hours at the request of the Whitehouse (assuming you believe the Guardian). The amount of spin and propaganda we’re being fed is simply sickening. I’ve decided that I’m going to finally get round to writing a proper book about it.

      • Yes, I took note of this American killing people and crying “diplomatic immunity”–which I personally find utterly outrageous that ANYONE can get away with murder with “diplomatic immunity.” There was a weird case of this several years back in DC when someone was driving drunk and killed people –and claimed “diplomatic immunity”. This makes them Above All Law and morality and ethics? Let you or I give this a whirl and we both know where we’re ending up.
        Caught the story online via AlJazeera English first–and then gradually it’s been showing up in American media online. Appalling whoever he really is. But those military contractors are nothing more then mercenaries at large who seem to really like killing people, but not so much being killed. And god forbid ANYONE anywhere “kill” an American–like we’re “sacred cows”?
        –As for media coverage inside America regarding protests–LOL–oh the range of it is mindboggling! A friend living on Cheyenne River Reservation picked up some radio station out of Colorado while searching for any sort of radio during a blizzard. She heard the most awful hate speech directed at the teachers protesting in Madison. She couldn’t believe it was even allowed on the air. Perhaps this is the start of a new movement –a certain sort of class war–in the States.

      • As for him now being CIA—well, need I say more? Congress of International Assasinations…

      • I’ve just taken delivey of what looks to be a very interestign documentary about the CIA’s attempt to kill Castro back in the 1950 and 60s. I’ll write a review soon once I’ve got my Burma VJ review posted.

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