Director: Armando Iannucci.
With: Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini and Peter Capaldi.
Released: April 17
The Thick of It is one of the best British sitcoms of the past decade. Created by Armando Iannucci and first broadcast on BBC4 in 2005, it's a fast, frantic Yes Minister for the New Labour years. Much like the hallowed older comedy, it goes behind the scenes in Westminster, where civil servants are running the show while befuddled MPs are trying to keep their jobs. But times have changed since Jim Hacker was in power. In The Thick of It, policies aren't fine-tuned over a glass of port in an oak-panelled gentlemen's club, they're thrown together on the hoof in chaotic open-plan offices. There's also much, much more swearing.
Most of this Olympic-standard profanity flies like machine-gun fire from Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi)—The Thick of It's answer to Sir Humphrey—a bullying spin doctor with a not-quite-coincidental resemblance to Alastair Campbell. He's a magnificent character, but don't worry if you've never seen the show. The world's most uncivil civil servant is back, and more offensive than ever, in the programme's big-screen spin-off, In The Loop.
The film features Tom Hollander as Simon Foster, an insecure, inexperienced government minister. He's vaguely opposed to military intervention in the Middle East—"It's bad enough trying to cope with the Olympics," he mutters—but a clumsy choice of words in front of a BBC news camera makes him sound like he's toeing the party's pro-war line, which is just what the terrifying Tucker wants to hear.
Suddenly Foster is whisked off to the Capitol and the UN as the prime minister's representative. Caught between James Gandolfini's dove-ish US general and David Rasche's hawkish official—a man with a not-quite-coincidental resemblance to Donald Rumsfeld—Foster is even more ineffectual in the US than he was in Britain. As Iannucci sees it, the world isn't run by scheming megalomaniacs, but by under-qualified, barely competent managers improvising their way through complicated situations, and desperately hoping they won't be found out.
It's a laugh-out-loud funny farce, with the intimacy of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, and some of the most imaginatively vicious insults ever spoken. But the satire seems out of date. In The Loop doesn't specify which conflict is being debated, but it's clearly inspired by the Iraq war. Although we never see the US president or the British prime minister, it's obviously set in the universe of Blair and Bush, not Brown and Obama. In The Loop is splendid, but it would have been even better two years ago.