This is magnificent — and it is true! It never happened; yet it is still true! What magic art is this?
Robin Goodfellow in Sandman #19 by Neil Gaiman
In The Loop was generally what I expected and hoped it would be – a hilarious, somewhat unsettling satire on how we managed to stumble into the Iraq War. But I also got a little bit more, partly due to accident and partly due to the film’s reception itself.
It’s always weird to watch a film when recent events give it a disturbing extra resonance. I saw a preview of the first Austin Powers on the day Princess Diana died. The joke in it about forcing Prince Charles to have a divorce was greeted with total, uncomfortable silence. Then later, watching the news reports, the friend I saw it with and I were grimly amused by the lack of information about the bodyguard who had been involved in the crash and the film’s ironic refrain of “no-one thinks about the henchmen.”
In The Loop had a sort of opposite effect. On the one hand, the joke about hotel porn got an extra yelp of laughter from the audience due to the proclivities of Jacqui Smith’s husband. On the other, it seemed that little bit more chilling in light of Damogate.
The revelations about Damian McBride and the growing awareness that he is part of a wider, endemic culture within Downing Street and the Labour Party went some way to dampening the criticisms of the film’s most damning critic, Alastair Campbell. It would be tempting to respond to Campbell by paraphrasing Carly Simon (“you’re so vain, I bet you think this film is about you”) but in fairness to him, the theory that Malcolm Tucker = Alastair Campbell has done the rounds for quite some time. Iannucci himself has repeatedly stated that Tucker is not an essay of Campbell himself. McBride this week, and the appearance in the film of another, equally odious press office, makes it clear that what Iannucci is doing is reflecting on a much wider phenomenon.
What I find most fascinating about Campbell’s criticisms though however are, ironically enough, how they parallel a crucial part of the film itself. Because ultimately the film is a study of Tucker and ultimately at what a wretched, pathetic character he is.
Tucker starts the film at the height of his powers, striding into 10 Downing Street and very quickly swooping down on International Development Minister Simon Foster for a gaffe in a radio interview. He bullies, cajoles and manipulates Foster and his staff throughout the film but at one pivotal moment it is revealed that he is ultimately as emasculated as all the other characters in the film. Having been put in his place by John Bolton-alike Linton, for a brief moment we are given a glimpse behind Tucker’s mask and get to see his fear and panic (it only lasts for a couple of seconds but here Peter Capaldi demonstrates what a great actor he is as well as a terrific ranter – I still always think of him as the blue eyed boy in Local Hero).
He pulls himself back together of course and over the course of a couple of hours manages to fake the intelligence necessary to persuade the UN to approve the war. But having done so, he goes back to Linton and attempts to publicly humiliate him in the most cutting and hurtful way he can think of. He calls him boring. Yet, while earlier on the film conspires to make you actually admire the savage nastiness of Tucker’s attacks (like all good movie monsters), by now we realise what a broken character he is. Far from cutting, the remark just comes across as sad.
And how does Alastair Campbell describe the film? He calls it boring.