“You sound like a fucking Nazi Julie Andrews!” Considering the grim fate that traditionally awaits many British sitcoms when they transfer to the big screen, you might be pleased to learn that In The Loop – essentially, The Thick Of It: The Movie – has successfully dodged a bullet. More, the cast of Machiavellian spin doctors, useless government ministers and their equally hopeless advisors have successfully been transplanted across the Atlantic, where they come face to face with what amounts to their American counterparts. But, of course, some things remain reassuringly familiar: the swearing is top notch.
In fact, it might be disingenuous of me to call this The Thick Of It: The Movie. Certainly, you’ll recognise Peter Capaldi as Glaswegian spin-lizard Malcolm Tucker, and Paul Higgins as Jamie, his feral lieutenant. You’ll also recognise Chris Addison, James Smith, Joanna Scanlan and Alex MacQueen in the cast; but not as Ollie, Glenn, Terri and Julius, who they play in The Thick Of It. In some weird reality shift, these actors are essentially playing the same characters, but here with different names. You wonder whether the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, is tacitly suggesting that there’s something interchangeable about Whitehall cannon fodder; the names can be altered, but the shit mountain is still the same.
In The Loop is about the build up to war in the Middle East (presumably Iraq, though it’s never specified). British Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander, in essentially the Chris Langham role) inadvertently announces that war is “unforeseeable” in a radio interview, and so sets off a predictably farcical chain of events that leads from the offices of Malcolm Tucker to the US State Department and, finally, the United Nations. There are, of course, many laughs to be had watching Malcolm unleash baroque degrees of swearing at Foster’s puppyish new advisor, Toby (Addison), or Jamie stamping a fax machine to death. But these are familiar, if highly enjoyable, pleasures. Where In The Loop stands or falls is how successfully it integrates the American material. Here, Iannucci’s blessed with a particularly fantastic cast, including James Gandolfini as a three-star US general who seems against the march to war, Mimi Kennedy as an equally dove-like Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy and David Rasche (TV’s Sledge Hammer!, for those who remember such things) as her hawk-like opposite number.
These are all welcome additions to Iannucci’s world, and, strangely, the third act showdown between Gandolfini’s General Miller and Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker reminded me of the face-off between De Niro and Pacino in Heat. In the wake of the success of the US version of The Office, which similarly deploys hand-held cameras, you’d think all this would translate very well. But it’s interesting that a pilot for an American version of The Thick Of It (directed by Christopher Guest) never made it to a full series. Also, I can’t help wondering quite how something so cynical and bilious as this will play in the States, currently basking in the warm glow of Obama’s election. All the same, In The Loop is brilliant, deliriously funny stuff. Now, if only they’d put out the Specials on DVD, I’d be happy.
In The Loop opens in the UK on April 17