It’s been some years since Monty Python stopped being de rigueur in America, and just as Brit TV shows like Blackadder, The Office, and Da Ali G Show have tapped away with a pin hammer at the U.S. hegemony of Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, and latterly, Curb Your Enthusiasm, British film comedy has struggled to make an impact for decades, with only reactionary fare like Mr. Bean and the odd phenomenon such as Borat registering at the U.S. box office; meanwhile the Judd Apatow stable currently seems to be averaging a film a month. However, like London buses, for which you interminably wait, only to find two arriving at once, a couple of noteworthy British comedy offerings, both of which have their origins in British television, are coming to the American public this summer: in August, the nostalgic rock ‘n’ roll movie The Boat That Rocked, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and written and directed by erstwhile sitcom writer Richard Curtis (cocreator of Blackadder and, indeed, Mr Bean), will be released stateside; but first comes the superior In the Loop, Armando Iannucci’s Sundance hit starring James Gandolfini, which plays like a straightforward feature-length episode of Iannucci’s political comedy TV series The Thick of It.
In the Loop is an ammonia-scented satirical critique of those British politicians star-struck by Washington in the build-up to the Iraq war. Its targets are not Blair or Bush, who are never mentioned or portrayed, but the troubling collection of duplicitous operatives and quisling, ass-covering incompetents who worked behind the scenes to “make it happen.” Out-of-his-depth junior minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), after jumping the gun to a TV journalist about the likelihood of a conflict, is sent on a fact-finding mission to Washington to gauge the U.S. appetite (and evaluate the evidence) for war. With the arrival close behind him of the Prime Minister’s monstrous spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), one of the three most important people in domestic UK politics, alongside the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, it soon becomes clear that the hapless and conscience-stricken Foster is operating from fairly low down on a chain of manipulation that stretches beyond even Tucker’s sphere of influence. Click here to read the rest of Julien Allen’s review of In the Loop.