Saturday, 2 January 2010

In The Loop – expert political satire on the big screen

The feature film debut of Armando Iannucci, described by the Daily Telegraph as “the hardman of political satire”, was always going to be of huge interest to all those lucky enough to be familiar with the truly excellent The Thick Of It. With the film made in a similar style to its television counterpart, and featuring many of the same characters, it doesn’t disappoint. The presence of Peter Capaldi as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker ensures a sense of continuity for the fans, and his performance is as usual exemplary as a New Labour-esque spin doctor in the style of Alastair Campbell. Tom Hollander stars as the film’s bumbling, incompetent minister, this time for International Development, who sets into motion the events of the film by publicly stating his belief in war being “unforeseeable”. The war referred to is quite clearly the much-discussed and still controversial invasion of Iraq, and the utterly false and fabricated ‘dossier’ in the film will inspire revulsion and anger in equal measure. The great strength of Iannucci’s writing is his seamless ability to present the thoroughly murky world of politics, with all the backstabbing, PR games, war-mongering and manipulation it involves, in a highly comical manner. Tucker’s one-liners remain as memorable as ever, with his profanity-laden performance and bullying personality in keeping with the overall message and spirit of the film. As Peter Bradshaw stated in the Guardian, “there isn’t a sympathetic character in sight”, an astute observation, as even the dismissal of Simon Foster towards the end by Tucker doesn’t draw any sympathy.

Despite the importance of the decisions being taken in the film Iannucci cleverly uses, as Time Out London calls it, “anti-West Wing production design that eliminates all notions of political glamour”. In many ways Iannucci’s filming techniques and inspired choice of locations, including a back garden in Foster’s Swindon constituency, draws parallels to that of The Office. Gervais and Merchant always intended for the characters to take centre stage, and as such chose the bleakest, most uninspiring locations possible. Iannucci clearly didn’t want to portray the glamorous nature of politics, such as photo opportunities at the White House; rather he wished to unearth the “compelling backstairs political world of anxiety and incompetence, bullying and humiliation”. In The Loop at no point depicts the President, or any other high-profile figure, rather it concentrates on “state department underlings, the kind of people that actually make decisions with enormous political consequences”, in the words of Iannucci.

Whilst some have observed the veritable poor timing of the film’s release, given the its proximity to the commencement of Barack Obama’s much-anticipated presidency, stating that “its exuberant, boundless cynicism will test the demand for political satire in an Obama-infatuated America”, In The Loop is a film everyone ought to be encouraged to see. Bradshaw’s observation that Iannucci is aiming to portray how “Britain’s callow political liberals” allowed themselves to be “flattered, and bullied and panicked into supporting whatever war America decided on”, is a conclusion many will draw. For me, films such as this don’t come around very often; too frequently a promising storyline will give way to a bloated, expensive and clichéd Hollywood ending in which everything works out for the best, but the fact is that with Iraq the opposite occurred. I sincerely hope the leaders and individuals involved in making those fateful decisions take the time to watch In The Loop, for they may be as disgusted and reviled by their own actions as was the rest of the world. As for the film I sincerely hope it revives the somewhat lost art of political satire, because as Iannucci has shown, our politicians have provided and continue to provide us with ample comedic scope through their actions.

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