In the Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci

In the Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci

Venturing out of Westminster reveals the limits of The Thick Of It’s satire, concludes Tom Jennings

The Thin of It. Film review – Tom Jennings
The hilarious BBC 4 sitcom The Thick Of It (2005/7) viciously satirised New Labour spin, showing the gymnastic contortions of information massaging and packaging necessary for variously venal, vacuous, mendacious and malicious actions and utterances comprising ‘affairs of state’ to resemble slickly-managed ‘joined-up’ policy. Harassed aides duck and dive delivering this conjuring trick from the heart of government to media interfaces, bullied into arbitrarily transient Party-line by Downing Street enforcers. Magnifying the premiss to cinema, In The Loop abandons banal bungling bureaucracy in a minor Ministry for big-budget geopolitical gravity, as Iraq war propaganda is prepared in Westminster and Washington DC. The fly-on-the-wall, on-the-hoof, faux-documentary style persists from television, as do archetypes of vacillating British politicians and squabbling, squirming assistants – with Peter Capaldi’s No.10 PR supremo surviving in all his psychopathic, foul-mouthed glory. Finally, as per, he gets his warlike way – any residual principles, ethics and decency having vacated the UN building.
Iannucci’s primary strategy is to fashion screwball comedy from the petty conflicts, indignities and tyrannies of office politics. Egotism, incompetence and communication breakdown perpetually threaten conformance to bigger pictures which the protagonists are only dimly aware of, busily chasing ever-shifting targets and deadlines. This effectively updates Yes, Minister’s (1980-82) caricature of traditional patrician government with Thatcherism’s brutal diktats filtering through elite civil servants to humiliate hapless junior ministers. The Thick Of It instead skewers politically-correct Orwellian fantasies of contemporary statecraft as benign ‘better management’, exposing an obscene class-based underbelly of barely-suppressed macho posturing, rage and shame – the symbolically violent infantility of its wit cathartically mirroring the disavowed dirty deeds diffident neoliberalism wreaks in the real world. In The Loop, however, bursts this hermetically-sealed pre-Oedipal bubble in the pragmatic US corridors of power – which are portrayed as, in their own way, just as ad-hoc a muddle of opportunistic rancour as ours.
Curiously, however, the film’s American career politicians are given ideological coordinates underpinning their agendas, which all their connivances, complacencies and flaws are genuinely mobilised to serve. Moreover, the Yanks have no equivalent of the dictatorial puppetmaster orchestrating apparatchiks, thereby allowing a freer play of the balance of forces rather than top-down fixing. Whereas the Blairites learned their rhetorical Third Way trade at Washington Consensus seminars precisely to sacrifice authentic commitment on the altar of corporate culture. So inadvertently projecting vestiges of noble ‘battles of ideas’ back across the Atlantic seems a monumental failure of nerve and/or imagination – symptomatic, perhaps, of cynicism’s concealed conservatism shading satire into farce. Nevertheless, at least In The Loop injects righteous, riotous bile into fictional power mechanics, pissing on The West Wing’s (1999-2006) saccharine complacency, New Labour: The Project’s (BBC, 2002) and The Deal’s (Channel 4, 2003) pseudo-documentary pandering to tabloid celebrity obsession, and – arguably most dystopic and soporific – the yuppie student narcissism of Party Animals (BBC, 2007).
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 10, May 2009.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:

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Tom Jennings
Jul 3 2009 19:15


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