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If you thought the British and American governments went bat-shit crazy during the run-up to the Iraq War, Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop proves triumphantly that you weren’t alone. The funny satire of the countdown to war is blessed with a riotously obscene, literate screenplay worthy of Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, had they ever been encouraged to dream up an expletive-laden, transatlantic black-comedy mash-up of The Office and Dr. Strangelove.
Set in London and Washington, D.C., In The Loop repurposes characters (mostly idiots) and crises from Iannucci’s BBC political sitcom hit The Thick of It, and introduces actors who’d later appear in his successful HBO venture Veep (plus James Gandolfini as a quietly hilarious armchair-general). So if you love one or both of those shows, this is the bridge between them, and thus the perfect entry-point into the black-hearted political satire of Iannucci.
The office in question—Britain’s Ministry for International Development—is a sulfurous snake-pit of petty spite, unapologetic sexism, and egomaniacal ambition (and its Washington equivalent is no better). Its fantastically foul-mouthed denizens will gladly spill national secrets if they think it might get them laid. They pass breathtakingly juvenile notes during meetings on the highest affairs of state (“Simon is behaving like a MASSIVE TIT”). Meanwhile, their clueless minister, the aforesaid Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), aka “the only political catastrophe you can see from space,” is under strict orders to always be “meat in the room”—i.e., present but silent at important meetings—because every time he opens his idiot mouth he accidentally recalibrates British foreign policy.
In The Loop’s cleanup man for such mishaps—Malcolm Tucker, Director of Communications for the British Prime Minister—is just magnificent to watch as he spews malevolence and vile insults at all in his path. When there’s a war impending in the Middle East, and facts to be “fixed” with the Americans, and perceptions to be “massaged” on the home front, he only gets worse—which in comedy terms means that he only gets better and better, meaner and ruder, his every speech soaring aloft on wings of profanity.
Played by future Dr. Who actor Peter Capaldi, Tucker is the master of vile and vivid invective delivered in a paint-blistering Glaswegian accent. “Maiming’s what I prefer—psychologically,” is his philosophy of human relations in a nutshell. Should you happen to use a word like “purview” in his presence this is what happens: “Within your ‘purview’? Where do you think you are, some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!”
In The Loop’s masterful script offers a never-ending blizzard of such exquisitely sculpted swears and insults (“Go fuck yourself, Frodo!” “Shut it, Love Actually!”), amid embittered encounters between rivals and enemies—Capaldi’s one vitriolic confrontation with Gandolfini’s peacenik-general is composed entirely of detailed death-threats and gruesome sexual slurs. Underneath it all, however, is a sharply pointed satire of incompetent, hapless politicians adrift on a tide of pettiness and idiocy, as the world around them swirls down the toilet.