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: