Film discussion

Looking back at… In The Loop

As The Death of Stalin heads toward cinemas, Amy Walker looks back at Armando Iannucci's modern classic...

In The Loop is the big screen version of Armando Iannucci’s popular television series The Thick of It, and sees the return of Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker, the spin doctor from hell, as he tries to steer a bumbling minister away from disaster during the buildup to war.

The story follows Minister for International Development, Simon Foster (played by Tom Hollander) after he makes a comment during a radio interview that he felt the looming war in the Middle-East was “unforeseeable”. As this goes against the government’s official neutral line he tries to correct his mistake by then stating that Britain may have to “climb the mountain of conflict”.

“You sound like a Nazi Julie Andrews!” Tucker screams at him as demands start to come in from America for Foster to take part in their war planning committee, with both those for and against the war trying to claim him as their own. What follows is a series of events where the British ministers are dragged into a round of talks in Washington and New York, whilst Foster tries to keep his career in one piece and Malcolm attempts to turn events to the government’s favour.

Whilst many television series struggle to make the leap to the big screen, In The Loop really stands out as a great example of a show managing to do it well. Part of this success may be down to the fact that the film doesn’t tie itself down to everything established in The Thick of It. Several cast members return for the film, though Tucker, his psychotic enforcer Jamie Macdonald, and Malcolm’s PA Sam, are the only characters to appear in both, with the other returning actors cast in new roles.

This may initially seem jarring for some, but it means that the film is able to tell its own story, in a way built for the big screen, without having to explain away certain characters, events, or connections to the series, making it much more accessible for new audiences. Whilst this does separate the film from its parent show, it does feel like it fits naturally enough into the world that they’d already established.

The move to the big screen also opens up the story to include bigger cast and locations than the series was able to do so, with a large portion of the story taking place in America. The American cast work seamlessly with their British counterparts, and add a sense of conflict that was missing from the parent series, with great performances from David Rasche (who would go on to appear in Veep, the American version of The Thick of It), and the late, great James Gandolfini.

In The Loop is funny, and at times ridiculous, look into the world of politics, one that’s full of spin, half-truths and outright lies as politicians and civil servants spend more time trying to keep their jobs than doing the right thing. There are no real heroes or villains in the film, only people with different agendas. Malcolm Tucker isn’t a nice person, but he’s not a monster, and there are moments where you feel genuinely sorry for the man. Simon Foster is someone in over his head having said the wrong thing, but wanting to do the right thing.

This may not be a film for everyone, it looks at people in government and paints them as idiots and fools; it makes the argument that you can’t trust information as it will be based on an agenda, spun and doctored to fit a specific narrative or viewpoint; and there’s a lot of swearing (the film uses the word fuck 135 times, with 86 of them being just Peter Capaldi!). However, if you find politics interesting, if you like ridiculous satire, or you just like seeing angry people screaming lines of obscenities at people this film will definitely appeal.

In The Loop is not only a great jump to film for a brilliant television series, it’s a great film in its own regards. The story is engaging and amusing, the characters feel very real, and the humour can go from incredibly subtle to ridiculous in the same scene. With Peter Capaldi stepping down from his role in Doctor Who and real world politics being in the state they are at the moment, I can only hope that we get to see more Malcolm Tucker in the future.

Are you a fan of In the Loop? Let us know!

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