Saturday, 2 May 2009

In The Loop

I've always been a big fan of The Thick of It, the TV show on which In The Loop is based, so I had great hopes for the film.

The TV show was written by a team including Armando Iannucci, a name attached to several of my favourite comedy shows ever* (The Day Today, The Armando Iannucci Show, Time Trumpet, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle), as well as Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell (Peep Show). The team remained the same for In The Loop, except for Iannucci who directed instead.

The film's similarities to the TV show go beyond the writing of course; the shooting style is identical, using handheld cameras for that "fly-on-the-wall" look, and there is no soundtrack. The comedy is entirely about the dialogue, which in the TV show comes thick and fast, before the title has even appeared. Because of this I was slightly wary as In The Loop opened with comparatively sparse dialogue. It got up to speed soon enough though; I can only assume it was deliberately calmed down for audiences unfamiliar with the style.

Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is a new face for In The Loop, although a very familiar character. He is a career-obsessed, decidedly untalented minister who you find yourself siding with one moment then hating the next. It struck me halfway through the film that perhaps this was basically Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham**) from the TV show, but Hugh Abbot was never careerist, he was just useless. I suppose they share an awkward (and mainly suppressed) desire to "do the right thing", but Hugh was much more of an old-guard lifetime civil servant type of character.

Chris Addison and Olivia Poulet reprise their relationship, though with different character names (Toby and Suzy in the film, Ollie and Emma in the TV show). Their relationship isn't nearly as interesting in the film - in the TV show Emma worked for the opposition, and their relationship was entirely based on mutual espionage. Since In The Loop isn't about domestic politics that's not massively relevant, so Suzy is part of the government in the film.

The central character of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) is thankfully identical in the film. He is the same foul-mouthed, basically evil bully he was in The Thick of It. His assistant Jamie MacDonald (Paul Higgins) also returns, though I thought with far too small a part. Both have the same delightfully offensive way with words (I can't believe I've never thought to use the word "catastrofuck" before..) with Jamie being the slightly more unhinged and potentially violent of the two. There are several marvellous scenes of rooms full of hapless victims silenced by Malcolm's acidic rejoinders, which I suppose is really the hallmark of The Thick of It. But where in the TV show Malcolm often appears as the only one with any sense in a government staffed by ministers completely detached from reality, with the weight of an all-too-real story about dodgy intelligence he becomes actively evil by the end of the film. I did leave the cinema feeling slightly cold; not what I'd expected.

Still, I definitely recommend it. And if that's not enough to convince you, here's a clip (warning! contains references to "lubricated horse cock")

* I was going to declare Iannucci incapable of wrongdoing, but wikipedia tells me he directed the recent Post Office adverts. I hope he didn't write them..

** I looked up Chris Langham on wikipedia, to check the facts of his sentence, and found out one of his first jobs was writing for The Muppet Show. Bet you didn't know that!

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