pourquoi? parce que

In The Loop ****

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intheloop4In The Loop is the feature adaptation of the BBC television series The Thick of It, and is a searing satire with its sights set on all that is venal and crass (!) in contemporary Anglo-American politics. As if you didn’t know that already. Simon Foster, Secretary of State for International Development (played as charmingly bumbling by Tom Hollander, though I suspect that my sympathy for the character may not chime with a public braying for the blood of real MPs) finds himself embroiled in intrigue when his loose tongue publicly ties itself up in several choice pieces of fatally ambiguous spin shrapnel, foremost of which are the claims that war is “unforseeable” and that when the time comes, we must “climb the mountain of conflict”. The first lands him in hot water with the PM’s enforcer (the searing Malcolm Tucker of Peter Capaldi), quite obviously a close-to-the-bone riff on Alastair Campbell, whilst endearing the hapless Foster to Americans on the warpath. The second statement becomes their bumper sticker, quite literally.

Technically, this is a film of rare composition – flowing in a moderate rhythm yet tearing through seething material at break-neck tempo. There is consistent plot-developing action, submerged completely in a dialogue-heavy script, whose execution on screen is magnificent – rich with detail, but not simply descriptive, expedient to the story. The audience is kept on its toes, while the film develops a seductive, multi-dimensional melody at tremendously high frequency, soaring above those tempered narrative beats.

You can tell where the jokes have Iannucci’s stamp, yet they all demand real laughter. But there is space for far more than jokes. The film races through so much penetrating insight into its character stereotypes, their relationships and behaviour in working and personal contexts. I feel like there are people in this film who parallel those in my own life, and whose portrayal violently critiques our behaviour. I feel the observations characters make, and their own tics, deeply parallel me.

Gina McKee

Perhaps it also feels true to life due to the intimate, fly-on-the-wall style, close within the scene. This is done with quite some flair – personal, without nausea – notice the little touches, the little zoom on Gina McKee when she stifles a laugh. And perhaps it is this appearance of truth which left me more immersed than I’ve been at the cinema in a long time (even while I felt more self-aware than usual, in a packed auditorium whose patrons’ reactions I couldn’t help but anticipate and project onto my own).

Such immersion at such pace left me feeling chewed up and spat out. One feels like the sacked Toby or Foster at the end. Having peeked through at the chaos, grime, stress and unfortunate allure of power behind the curtain of real political agency – having been seduced into becoming little more than a wide-eyed schoolboy following around sociopaths who make the decisions – it is painfully alienating to come back aground. One feels so miniaturized by one’s own political insignificance and inherent inability to become significant that we can’t even focus on the more direct impact on us. Toby’s life as he knew it is in ruins (do we think about this? No. Our eyes follow the new minister, and Tucker).

Peter Capaldi

It’s a shame so much of the audience was caught up with the lyric assault of Tucker’s expletives, and that the rest (I’ve rarely seen such a broad range of ages in one screening) were probably taken aback and slightly uncomfortable. Because you need to see past it to get the point, made repeatedly but discriminately, of the seedy, testosterone driven, misogynist tools used to reign in Whitehall by spin. It limits the opportunity to develop Capaldi’s character to a few moments, the best of which where we almost see the cogs turning as he forms the final, distressing plan to manipulate events in favour of war.

More generally, if you pass through the acerbic wit, you find a range of distressing and disconcerting criticisms of government, and implicitly, of much more, much more widely. If you’ll forgive me, I’d like to get a bit personal. On the surface, I was entertained, even elated. Underneath, violated. Maybe it’s too close. Because I come from the privileged background the Scot Spin-doctors savage – because I know people following the graduate track into both of these administrations – because it could be me. And because I, like almost everyone else, can feel the allure of power, and because In the Loop makes it quite clear what grist you’ll become if you try to get it. I already had my suspicions about a lot of private sector work, and now these have tainted my impression of the public sector. I know it’s a satire, but I generally suspect a well-informed satire will have more cutting truths behind it than any documentary on politics. And why do I think this is worth saying? My responses to the film and my current view on British politics (and political institutions) are fairly representative of my peers, and we are the future of this country. Between such harsh home truths as hammered home by this film, the fury and disillusionment provoked by expense scandals and vituperative attacks over fiscal management and financial regulation, what incentive is there for anyone to go into politics? What alternative is there to stand up for?


A really wonderful film, which leaves me pondering like a Soviet, ‘What is to be done?’ and drawing the conclusion that all there is to do is embrace political exclusion and withdraw from public life, to indulge in some armchair contemplation. Though it might stir anger and draw bile from the idealist or optimist (“British politics is venal and crass” I hear you roar), in my experience, the typical response is one of quiet melancholy, extreme aversion to political participation and a cystic growth in cynicism. I would highly recommend In The Loop as a tool for ending impassioned, tired and circular political conversation at the dinner-table. (But also because it is a jolly good laugh.)


In The Loop, Dir. Armando Iannucci, Writ. Armstrong, Blackwell, Iannucci, Roche, BBC Films, UK, 2009


Written by James P. Campbell

08/05/2009 at 16:34

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