The list of film spin-offs from British sitcoms is not pretty (see this list at Wikipedia; for the record, I haven’t seen the League of Gentlemen film, and I was never a big fan). Apart from the Monty Python boys, even spin-offs from sketch shows haven’t been good. Therefore, even though The Thick Of It was an excellent programme, the prospects of the ensuing film being any good were slim. Fortunately, the people behind the film neglected to pay attention their history and have created a great film.
Instead of being a direct translation to cinema, the film takes the most fascinating character, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the Prime Minister’s press co-ordinator – i.e. fascistic and bullying spin doctor – and lets him loose on a larger arena: the United States of America. Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is an incompetent minister who, when asked unscheduled on a radio show about the possibility of war, says that it is ‘unforeseeable’. This small oral faux pas inadvertently paves the way to war, as Foster is sent to Washington and New York with his new aide Toby (Chris Addison), who cocks things up even more while trying to do the right thing. Dodgy dossiers, angry constituents (a lovely cameo from Steve Coogan), a peace-loving general (James Gandolfini on fine comic form) and vote-fixing at the UN all add up to an intelligent and scathing satire on politics and war, but without actually mentioning Iraq at all.
Armando Iannucci, along with the team of writers from the television series, have created something extremely special with this extended and expanded story. The scope is larger and the threat greater but it doesn’t mean that the focus on the characters is lost. Because it is the wonderfully sweary Tucker, played with demonic glee by Capaldi, who leads the show of an ensemble of good actors playing their parts (along with some improvisation to capture the real feel of the moments). There are parts for actors from the television show in different form (apart from Paul Higgins, who reprises his role as Tucker’s right-hand man, the vicious and super-sweary Jamie MacDonald) but it is the vituperative invective that spews forth from his mouth that is the main attraction. The face-off between him and Gandolfini’s general is a highlight because Tucker is used to ministers and journalists giving into him but not the general; Tucker gives as good as he gets, but is more angry about being called ‘English’ by the general than anything else (Tucker is Scottish). Extremely funny, extremely smart, extremely sweary – In The Loop is the sort of British comedy to be proud of, up there with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in the list of great recent British comedy films.