At a time when Gordon Brown’s attempts to free himself from the shackles of his predecessor’s legacy appear to be doomed thanks, in part, to the efforts of his staff – Damien McBride and Jackie Smith probably won’t be winning Employee of the Month awards anytime soon – it only seems right that new British political comedy In the Loop should take its place on the front bench of cinema releases.
Spun-off from BBC Four’s The Thick of It, an achingly funny series that follows the workings of the fictitious Department of Social Affairs, the film retains two of the comedy’s main characters – the verbally dexterous (and ever so slightly foul-mouthed) Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) and his colleague Jamie MacDonald (Paul Higgins) – while recasting many of the other actors in new roles.
Tucker is now the Prime Minister’s director of communications, monitoring the day-to-day output of ministers, scanning the airwaves for their latest cock-ups and misdemeanours.
On hearing the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), claim that “war is unforeseeable” in a radio interview, Tucker goes into overdrive to try and avoid press interest.
Events coincide with the presence of an American political contingent who embrace their British cousin’s comments as both pro and anti-war discussions boil over into backstabbing and wrangling.
In what seems rare for modern comedies, especially modern British comedies, In the Loop is funny. Laugh out loud funny. One-liner is followed by one-liner, Capaldi delivering each new bitter riposte with so much punch that the end of most encounters feel like the bell has just gone on the twelfth round of a Mike Tyson fight.
While Capaldi dominates the film, there are also impeccable performances from Hollander as the permanently confused Foster and Chris Addison as his aide, Toby.
Across the pond, James Gandolfini’s US General Miller almost banishes memories of Tony Soprano for good, while Mimi Kennedy’s Karen Clarke is suitably conniving as the US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy.
Stuffed with memorable moments – Miller and Clarke calculating the number of troops needed for another war, Jamie’s “interrogation” using a fax machine as leverage, Tucker bounding through the streets of Washington and Miller and Tucker’s face-off in the UN bar just a few of the more outstanding scenes – In the Loop still manages to thread a decent story through the madness.
Like the TV show, the look of the film is documentary style, the camera pushing its way into just the right corner of a room to pick up another classic Tucker comment.
The colour palette is most impressive near the start of the film as we see the grey offices of Westminster contrast with the brighter yellows of Washington.
Were the film’s writer’s inspired by the Bush/Blair era – was our previous PM so enamoured by the glamour of Washington that he went with the flow rather than sticking to his own convictions? – or did they simply see the comic gold offered by the more mundane side of politics?
It doesn’t really matter which, as In the Loop has immediately become an historical document, a snapshot of a period when decisions were made with more lies than truth offered to the press and public by way of explanation.
Already a contender for the finest comedy of 2009, here’s hoping we see more of Malcolm Tucker on our screens, even if it is just the mooted new BBC Four series. If we’re very lucky, we might even get a sequel to the film, though quite who we have to bribe or threaten to secure that is anyone’s guess. Here’s hoping Tucker is working on it right now.
In the Loop is on limited release from Friday 17 April