Shiny Shelf

In The Loop

By Stephen Lavington on 13 May 2009

The danger with satire is that it can swiftly become out of date: ‘Spitting Image’ thrived off the gross caricatures of 80s politics but lost its way in the mid-90s while ‘The Daily Show’ would be dead were it not for Bush-era Fox News Republicanism’s refusal to throw in the towel. ‘In The Loop’s fortunes have swung the other way – the film of the TV show has kept its finger so keenly on the pulse of Blair/Brown-ism’s cack-handed obsession with appearance and control that one of the biggest laughs it gets is from a throw-away line about hotel porn charges appearing on a government minister’s expenses account.

Some might spy signs that ‘The Thick of It’ / ‘In The Loop’s era is ending. The star of the show is foul-mouthed media handler Malcolm Tucker whose real-life inspirations run the gamut from Alistair Campbell to Charlie Whelan to the meat-faced Damian McBride. The latter’s very public disgrace must surely cast doubt on such figures having such a high profile under a Cameron regime. Similarly a priggish and fanatical US state department official is very much a Rumsfeldian relic of the uptight Bush government, and in stark contrast to the still box-fresh Obama administration.

That said the core of the show is as timeless as satire gets. The figure of the bumbling but well-meaning if career-obsessed British politician goes back to ‘Yes, Minister’, and is as relevant as always. Likewise there will always be powers behind the throne, whether the Sir Humphreys of the establishment or the chippy spin-doctor cynics of Cool Britannia (or, for a taste of the future, the bland and neurotic image-consultants of ‘The Thick Of It’s shadow government minister in one of the last TV specials). The most gimmicky element is the increasingly elaborate and abusive swear-based dialogue but, despite appearances, that is merely profane window-dressing on a searching examination of the state of politics in the new century.

That remains the case despite the dated setting of a run-up to a middle eastern invasion and the corresponding set of deceptions and lies to public and fellow politicians alike. Characters bob about on stormy seas, in control of nothing and rising and falling according to blind chance irrespective of their own ambitions and efforts. When one official or minister falls from favour another swiftly arrives and the cycle starts again.

The, rather gloomy, cynicism of it all doesn’t prevent ‘In The Loop’ from being a very funny film indeed. In large part this is due to the startlingly inventive swearing, but the performances are almost uniformly brilliantly engaging and witty (one exception being James Gandolfini’s hopelessly miscast US General). It is perhaps inevitable that a British show rings most true with regard to British politics but even so there are some great observations on American policy as both byzantine and monolithic.

Great satire is rare. Great TV-to-movie adaptation is rare. For both these reasons ‘In The Loop’ is highly praiseworthy. What is more it is funny and has some painfully true observations to make on the world we live in.

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By Stephen Lavington

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