Looking Back At IN THE LOOP - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At IN THE LOOP

Tony ties himself in knots.
In The Loop was a 2009 flowering of a tradition that goes back to the Sixties and Seventies – movie-length versions of British sitcoms.

It stars a lot of the cast from The Thick Of It. It’s written by most of the same people who wrote The Thick Of It. And front and centre it stars Peter Capaldi as the legendarily foul-mouthed fixer and spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, who, in The Thick Of It, carved himself a memorable place in British sitcom history.

But it nevertheless manages to fall into an uncanny valley for hardcore Thick Of It fans, because while many of the stars of the TV version are here, many of them are playing entirely different characters in the movie to those they play in the TV show.

Ollie Reeder, played by Chris Addison, is nowhere to be seen. But Chris Addison does play Toby Wright, new boy and Special Advisor to the Minister For International Affairs. That’s a weirdness on which the movie doubles down, by using Olivia Poulet, who played Ollie’s TV girlfriend, Emma Messinger, as Toby’s movie girlfriend, Suzie.

The blurring of the lines continues with an appearance from James Smith (Glenn Cullen in The Thick Of It) as Michael Rodgers – Director of Diplomacy at the Foreign Office. Alexander MacQueen (Julius Nicholson in the TV show) appears as the British Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jonathan Tutt. And so on, and so on.

The result is a film that feels like a West End show where almost everyone the audience came to see were available, but just randomly decided to play different roles for one night.

That said, the scope of the film is significantly bigger and broader than anything The Thick Of It ever had to cope with – largely so it can tell a more international story, and bring in some American stars to play the political satire game.

Stars like James “The Sopranos” Gandolfini, David “Sledge Hammer” Rasche, and Mimi “Dharma and Greg” Kennedy, who populate various levels of the American command and control structure, and do it with exactly the level of naturalistic comedy that makes shows like The Thick Of It, and later, Veep, work so well.

The reason for the casting changes and the American involvement, as we say, is to tell a bigger and broader story than anything the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (the focus of the TV version) would every have the authority to be involved in. Shifting the action to the Department for International Development gives the story plenty of scope to satirize the living guts out of Anglo-American relations, particularly in the run-up to a potential conflict (like the Iraq War that had been ongoing for six years when In the Loop was released).

In particular, the film shows with a deeply mordant sense of humour how evidence to support a particular point of view can be found, fabricated, copied, and its meaning changed utterly by those with an agenda driven by the need to be personally important in a power structure.

That was all a deep and death-knelling riff on the intelligence which allegedly pushed the Blair government in the UK to suppose George Bush Jnr’s rush to war on the basis of weapons of mass destruction which could allegedly hit the UK within 45 minutes. The weapons never existed, the intelligence was spurious, and there’s some significant suggestion that people at the top of government knew all this the case, despite using it to rush to a war that would kill thousands of troops.

In the world of In The Loop, a report by Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky), an adviser to Mimi Kennedy’s US Assistant Secretary Karen Clark, is used, first by Toby, who knew her at university, and then by figures at successive levels of government, to escalate the case for war at the UN, much against the spirit of the report itself. It’s actually tampered with by Malcolm Tucker and his hellish acolyte, Jamie McDonald (Paul Higgins), the other of the two main characters to transfer straight from The Thick Of It to In The Loop, to remove all the compelling arguments against going to war, so it reads like a hawkish document, when any analysis of the original would compel a stay of action.

That in turn all comes about as a result of Liza’s determination to win policy-wonk points with her boss, Toby’s determination (after cheating on his girlfriend with Liza during a Washington trip) to advance both her career and his own chances of getting a second night with her, and then of course, Malcolm Tucker’s hatchet-job which completely changes the message of the report, leading to an invasion by US and UK forces.

For all the exceptional satire (which we always feel is rather more documentary than fiction), there’s a degree to which fans of The Thick Of It are really in it for the free-range, joyous obscenity of Malcolm Tucker’s swear-athons (and indeed, Jamie McDonald’s rather more intensely physical intimidation).

In The Loop serves up lashes of top quality Malcolm-work, bringing in not only Tom Hollander as Minister for International Development, Simon Foster, but a clean-slate version of Chris Addison’s Ollie in Toby – with the added fun that Toby is able to ingratiate himself with his minister and become hopelessly embroiled in events. An addition who’s worth her weight in gold is Gina McKee as Communications Manager at the Department of International Development, Judy Molloy, who, when Malcolm goes up one side of her and down the other, is able to tell him that his insults don’t affect her, giving her a Teflon competence in a world full of people whom pressure frequently forces into idiocy.

Peter Capaldi and James Gandolfini squaring off is a sight to behold, and if you’ve never seen it, stop reading this immediately, go fire up your Britbox subscription and just watch it. And letting Tucker loose in America also brings him into random conflict with passers-by who object to his language. That goes down well…

As a combination of vile but cathartic streams of invective and the sharpest political satire of its decade – and arguably since its decade – The Thick Of It made for hypnotic viewing, and significantly boosted the careers of all its stars (with the exception of Chris Langham, but that wasn’t the programme’s fault). In The Loop took that premise forward to a much wider scope and a much wider audience.

While it can be argued that it never punches with quite the same oomph on an international level as it does in the relative claustrophobia of a single fairly pointless British ministry, it absolutely delivers on its satirical weight, and there’s plenty of inventive Tucker swearing to keep the foul-mouthed purists happy.

The point being that while it’s now 13 years old, the satire remains as fresh as it was when the movie was released. On both sides of the Atlantic, the sense of self-service, small agenda, competition for relevance and the cut and thrust of politics overshadowing the need for calm and reflective governance remains entirely identifiable in the 2020s. That means In The Loop still has a lot to say, and a lot of inflammatory spitfire words with which to say it.

Watch The Thick Of It today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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