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Film: In the Loop

This is the trouble with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you've been there, you never want to go again unless you absolutely have to. It's like France.
General Miller

2009 film spin-off of Armando Iannucci's political sitcom The Thick of It.

The film is set in a slightly different universe from the series, this time with the action unfolding across the United Kingdom and United States. It features most of the original cast, with most of them playing new (but strangely familiar) roles.

Tom Hollander joins the cast as Simon Foster, the hapless Minister for International Development. Peter Capaldi returns as Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, who is called upon to stop Foster from giving any statements to the press... or to the Americans... or talking in general. Foster is also joined by his senior aide, Judy Molloy (Gina McKee), and millstone—er, junior aide Toby Wright (Chris Addison).

When Foster makes two contradictory statements regarding a possible war in an unspecified Middle Eastern country, he finds himself summoned to a fact-finding mission in Washington, where he is used to push arguments both for and against the war. The Brits comes face-to-face with their US counterparts, including the hawkish Linton Barwick (David Rasche) and the dovish General Miller (James Gandolfini).

As the movie is a spin-off set in almost the same universe as the series, the two share many tropes. Tropes that originated in the TV series may be better placed on the page for The Thick of It.


This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Toby is noticeably more self-righteous, smug and cowardly than Olly Reeder. He also treats his girlfriend like crap, something which cannot be said for Olly.
    • Similarly, Malcolm of In the Loop seemingly has absolutely no moral principles beyond his own job. Notably, unlike his TV counterpart, he never shows any empathy or sympathy for anyone. (What appears to be momentary lapses in this usually turnout to be manipulation.)
  • Anachronism Stew: There is no clear indication of the year on which the film takes place; the film circles around a possible western intervention in an unspecified country. As it parallels the real intervention in Iraq, it would put it in 2003; yet by a reference by Malcolm about YouTube (which was launched in 2005) and the noticeably widespread use of text messaging puts it in a considerably later date, which could be surmised as late 2000's, the time when the film itself was released.
  • Angrish: Malcolm's gift for baroque swearing briefly deserts him in the Meditation Room.
  • Alternative Continuity: To The Thick of It. The film stars several of the same actors, but while some of them are playing the same characters that they play in the series (albeit with slightly different characteristics in some cases), others are playing entirely new ones.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lampshaded, with Malcolm and Jamie exchanging "lovey-dovey" pleasantries over the phone (coupled with the fact the film, and especially its deleted scenes, suggest Jamie is the closest thing Malcolm has to an actual friend), and General Miller calling Malcolm gay later on, to which Tucker doesn't seem to react.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: This is how Malcolm sees the use of the word "purview" by Simon's aide, Judy Malloy:
    "Within your purview? Where do you think you are, in some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not a fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up the shitter with a lubricated horse cock!"
  • Armchair Military: General Miller currently, though he admits to having killed people 15 years ago so it presumably didn't always apply.
    • Arguably he deconstructs this later on:
      Miller: "What, you think they should make you drag in a bullet-ridden corpse to the Pentagon every five years to renew your soldier's licence?"
  • Armies Are Evil: Surprisingly averted. Of the Secretary of State (Arch-Diplomat) and the Four Star General (Arch-Soldier), the general is the one urging restraint.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jamie. In one famous scene he's even fax crazy.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: It's pretty inevitable that the pro-war side is going to win eventually, because the film is based on the build-up to a war which actually happened in real life. As it turns out, though, the only characters who get what they want in the end are Linton (the Ax-Crazy warmonger), Jamie (the only person in the film more psychologically disturbed than Linton) and the even-more-aggressively-amoral-than-usual Malcolm Tucker.
  • Bad News in a Good Way: After Michael admits to leaking PWIP-PIP, Jamie later barges into his office to cheerfully inform him that he isn't fired, asking if that isn't a good thing. Michael notes that it sounds ominous. He's right too.
  • Bastard Understudy: Jamie. "My theory is Malcolm built him in a lab, from bits of old psychopaths."
  • Big Damn Movie: Played with. Malcolm and co. are up to their usual shenanigans (handling incompetent ministers and cleaning up PR disasters), but on a much larger stage than the show.
  • Black Comedy: Some of the political antics are funny until one remembers that the "unforeseeable" war in question will lead to a long and pointless standoff in the Middle East. Toby and Simon convincing each other that ''knowingly publicly supporting something you're absolutely against'' is the "braver option" also reeks of this.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Liza Weld. Not that her party are the Republicans, of course.
  • Brains and Brawn: Malcolm plays Xanatos Speed Chess at the UN as Jamie smashes up fax machines in London.
  • Briar Patching: "Please, this garden wall story... please, don't run with that because my reputation will be in tatters..." ...and Simon Foster is gone.
  • Brick Joke:
    • A subtle one. Judy guesses Toby's name as being Daniel or a variation, because new people apparently often have that name. Come the end of the film, Toby's replacement turns out to be called "Danny Dan".
    • Taken literally with the subplot involving a collapsing garden wall.
  • Britain Versus the UK: Not so much subverted as set straight by the Scottish Malcolm: "Don't ever call me fucking English again".
  • The Catch Phrase Catches On: In-universe. Simon's attempt to undo the damage from his first (anti-war) gaffe becomes a rallying cry for the pro-war forces: "sometimes a country has to be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict." Linton uses it to try and draw out Simon during the well-attended Future Planning Committee meeting; later we see Linton also has it printed and hung up on his wall.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • While he's certainly no Large Ham, Peter Capaldi acts so hard his temple veins start throbbing:
      "You know what you look like? A squeezed dick. You've got that little blue vein running up the side of your head..."
    • General Miller
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Linton Barwick is an extremely unsettling version. His casual disregard for reality (changing minutes and wholesale rewriting of intelligence reports) mirrors Malcolm's attitude toward spin and damage control, but without any of the irony. As Karen Clarke puts it, the voices in his head are "singing barbershop together". And apart from his Ice Cream Koans, there are his odd almost-but-not-quite non sequiturs.
    Linton: "Glass offices, in my opinion, are for perverts."
    Bob: "I could request the glass be frosted."
    Linton: "Frosting is on cakes."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Hey buddy, enough of the curse words, alright?" No, it's not alright: practically every line uttered by Malcolm or Jamie is a Cluster F-Bomb. Malcolm's response to the gentleman who confronts him about this is no exception: "Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat fuck!"
  • Comedic Sociopathy: With his big baldy head, Sir Jonathan Tutt is a magnet for it.
  • Compensating for Something: Toby makes some sniggering comments of this nature about the Washington Monument. Malcolm bluntly shuts him up by caustically remarking that the only way Toby is ever likely to get anything remotely similar to commemorate his life is if he buys "a fucking Toblerone".
  • Compliment Backfire: "What am I? Tit meat?"
  • Control Freak: Linton, to the extent that he objects to I ♥ Huckabees being listed as an appropriate DVD for the American military roster. Purely because he thinks it's self-indulgent rubbish.
  • Country Matters: "F, star, star, cunt!"
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The Future Planning Committee. In fact, Clarke tells Liza that Linton's hush-hush war committee will assuredly be named something as boring and meaningless as possible. Liza takes the whole list of State Dept. committees and narrows it down to two, and Clarke figures out which one just from their names.
  • Cringe Comedy:
    • "It's difficult... difficult... lemon difficult."
    • Also Toby's anti-war shag.
    • Toby and Simon don't know in which room the meeting is being held, leading to a misunderstanding outside the ladies bathroom.
  • Curse Cut Short: "A certain vinegar-faced manipulative cowbag is about to discover that she is out of a fu-"
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon:
    • "DO YOU WANT ME TO HOLEPUNCH YOUR FACE?"
    • "If you don't get me fuckin' Brian, I'm gonna come over there, I'm gonna lock you in a fuckin' flotation tank and fill it full of sewage until ya fuckin' drown!"
    • "I'm gonna fuckin' take your leg off, and I'll... fuckin'... the shin bone! I'm gonna take the shin bone, I'm gonna break it in two and I'm going to fucking stab you to fucking death with it..."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pretty much everyone (except Jamie and Malcolm, who prefer to shout instead), but particularly Karen and Gen. Miller.
    Gen. Miller: (discussing the amount of troops available for an invasion into Unspecifiedistan) "Twelve thousand troops. But that's not enough. That's the amount that are going to die. And at the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really. Or it looks like you've lost."
  • Determinator: Malcolm. He may be a sonofabitch, but he's devoted to his job to the point of near-insanity.
    Malcolm Tucker: "Are you sure you're working as hard as me? 'cause I'm sweating spinal fluid. I'm a fucking husk."
  • Dirty Coward: So very many, from Toby giving PWIP PIP to his ex-girlfriend so he doesn't have to leak it himself, to Michael Rodgers following Jamie's orders so he can save his political career. The Doves all know how they can stop the war, but would rather go along with it and save their careers.
    • "I'm on the verge of taking a stand."
    • Notably highlighted in a scene where Toby, Simon and Judy are on their way to the UN, and Simon is hesitantly floating the notion that maybe it would be much braver to change his publicly expressed views and come down in support the war. Both Simon and Toby pointedly ignore Judy when she bluntly points out that no, it wouldn't be.
    • General Miller may have physical courage, but his decision not to resign (after Karen has already done so) shows a total lack of moral backbone.
  • Downer Ending
  • Eagleland: There is a culture shock for the visiting British dignitaries, but overall America comes across no more or less cynically than Britain. The British generally seem to kowtow to the Americans and are unsettled by how young many of their high-ranking officials are, but Malcolm Tucker still manages to browbeat everyone around him regardless of nationality.
  • Establishing Character Moment: "How'd your team do at the weekend?" "Alright, we won!" "Yeah? Hehehehe... wanker."
  • Establishing Shot:
    • The film opens with a shot of Malcolm sweeping into Number 10 in his Badass Longcoat. It continues in this vein as the action moves between Whitehall, The White House, the UN building and Simon's constituency in Northamptonshire.
    • It includes what Armando Iannucci refers to as "the Love Actually scene" in which Malcolm (walking past the Capitol in Washington) is seen on the phone to Judy (jogging past the Houses of Parliament in London).
    • This trope is lampshaded by Toby and Simon when they note that their hotel suite just about has a view of the Capitol.
    • It is also lampshaded by Toby after they all fly back to the UK: "From White House to Shite House".
  • Evil Versus Evil: Tucker vs. Barwick.
  • Expy: Several of the cast for their equivalents in The Thick of It:
    • Toby is Olly Reeder
    • Roz is Terri Coverley
    • Michael is Glen Cullen
    • Sir Jonathan Tutt is Julius, Lord Nicholson of Arnage
    • Toby's girlfriend Suzy is Olly's girlfriend Emma Messinger
  • Eye Take: There is a positively epic one in the Meditation Room scene.
  • Farce
  • Fish out of Water: All of the British characters in the US, but Simon Foster flaps about the most helplessly.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point, Simon floats the possibility of doing a U-turn on his public position and coming out in support of the war, wondering whether it would in fact be braver to do so than to stick with his publicly stated position. At the end, General Miller uses Simon's reasoning almost exactly to justify why he's not going to resign.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The invasion of Iraq is fast-tracked obviously. What's surprising is that Malcolm ends the film with gallons on blood on his hands, and he's the most chipper he's ever been.
  • Fun with Acronyms: PWIP PIP
  • Gilligan Cut: Malcolm asks Sir Jonathan Tutt to reschedule the UN vote. "It cannot be done and it will not be done", but it is. Twice.
  • Girly Run:
    • "Where's the War Committee?" Malcolm gets lost in Washington... and again at the UN.
    • Toby bursting in late smelling like a pissed seaside donkey.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Jamie seems permanently pissed off and ready to explode into violent rage at the drop of a pin.
    Jamie: "Right, that's enough of the fucking Oxbridge pleasantries..."
    Toby: (Puzzled) "What's 'Oxbridge' about saying 'hello'?"
    Jamie: "Shut it, Love Actually! DO YOU WANT ME TO HOLEPUNCH YOUR FACE?!"
    • Paul Michaelson also has a Hair-Trigger Temper, primed to take offence at anything anyone says.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: There's a scene at the United Nations which seems to have the sole purpose of getting Gen. Miller and Malcolm in the same room.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Sub Committee: Inverted. Everyone's dying to be part of the so-called 'Future Planning Committee', better known as the War Committee.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • Although not strictly a hero, as his career rapidly takes a dive-plunge straight down the crapper Simon Foster ends up in the U.N. Mediation Room frantically eating mints, staring blankly into space and remarking that his internal thoughts seem to be an endless loop of him shouting "Oh, shit!" at himself in a distant voice "like a car alarm in the middle of the night".
    • Although the "heroic" part can be debated, Malcolm gets one of these moments near the end when he briefly thinks his efforts are falling apart. It lasts about 3 seconds before Xanatos Speed Chess takes over.
  • Homage Shot:
    • "Don't raise your voice. This is a sacred place." Linton reminds Malcolm that you can't fight in here, this is the Meditation Room.
    • The US trailer and poster also reference Dr. Strangelove, as did many critics making favourable comparisons.
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point, Simon assures Malcolm that he didn't become a minister by screwing up every public appearance he makes; however, in pretty much every public or official appearance that we see him make he's inarticulate, incompetent and only manages to bollocks things up for himself and everyone.
    • Paul Michaelson: "Am I calm? I'm fucking ZEN!"
    • And of course, there's this insult by Malcolm, who swears at Linton, but then realises that he disapproves of swearing. Malcolm then does a Verbal Backspace and then still swears at him.
    "You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing so I'll sort that out. You are a boring F, star, star, CUNT!"
  • I Am Spartacus: Referenced in the infamous fax machine scene.
  • I Call Him "Mister Happy": "Little Toby is staying very much in his hammock this evening..."
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Malcolm really doesn't like anything English.
    Miller: "You're his little English bitch and you don't even know it. I bet if I went into your hotel room tonight I'd see on all four, little fishnets on, him hanging onto the back of you. [...] You may be a scary little poodlefucker back there in London, but here you're nothing. You know what you look like? A squeezed dick. You got a little blue vein running up the side of your head. That's where I'd put the bullet. But I'd have to stand back cause you look like you'd be a squirter."
    Malcolm: "[..] Don't ever call me fucking English again."
  • Ice-Cream Koan: "In the Kingdom of Truth, the man with one fact is king." Linton likes to deliver these, which is probably why his butt kisser Chad is fond of them too. Chad's tend to be much, much worse, though:
    Toby Wright: "You speak entirely in parables, don't you? You're like a crap Jesus."

    Malcolm Tucker: "All roads lead to Munich?" What the fuck does that mean?"
  • Improv
  • Improbable Age: The British bureaucrats, especially Malcolm, are all creeped out that White House staffers seem way too young to have their level of authority. Malcolm mockingly calls them a "master race of highly gifted toddlers" when speaking to Iannuci, a more senior American staffer. Iannuci explains that US Senators and Congressman recruit bright young things from Ivy League universities...and take them with them when they become Secretaries or even President.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: "I'm here, I'm there, I'm fuckin' everywhere. I'm the Eggman!"
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "You hanging, Chad?" More of an Incredibly Inevitable Pun.
  • Instant Waking Skills: Toby, the anti-war morning after.
  • Invisible President: Both the US President and the UK Prime Minister are invisible.'
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Malcolm pointing out that resigning to make a statement is useless, since Simon staying in office means that he has the power and position to influence.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Subverted to make Malcolm's final words to Linton more offensive.
  • Lean and Mean: Malcolm, as a result of stress, running everywhere, and existing on a diet of coffee. Miller says that he looks like a "squeezed dick."
  • Leave Him to Me: Malcolm directs Simon Foster to steer clear of Linton Barwick. "I'll deal with him."
  • Life Imitates Art: The MPs expenses scandal revealed two beautiful examples:
    • Simon Foster avoids watching a hotel's porn channel for fear that it will "show up in the register of interests". Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's husband wasn't quite so careful.
    • Lord Mandelson's claims for gardening expenses revealed he had been through a "diplomatic crisis" with a neighbour over neglect of his garden. His predicament was eerily similar to Simon Foster's as he struggled with Paul Michaelson (Steve Coogan) and his collapsing garden wall.
  • Made from Real Girl Scouts: Jamie assures Malcolm that he will be gentle with Simon and Toby: "Oh, you know me, Malc. Kid gloves... but made from real kids".
  • Married to the Job: Chad and all the young Whitehouse staffers. And Malcolm for that matter.
  • Men Are Uncultured:
    • Jamie: "What's the name of the fuck with the fiddle?". Michael Rodgers knows that it happens to be Debussy.
    • Jamie's meditation on cinema: "I went to see There Will Be Blood ... there wasn't any fucking blood!"
    • Jamie's views on opera: "It's just vowels! Subsidised foreign vowels!"
    • There's also a deleted scene where Malcolm trashes Atonement. Which may be a subtle Actor Allusion since Gina Mc Kee (Judy) appeared in that movie.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Malcolm takes offence at being called English.
  • Newspeak: It's not the 'War' Committee; it's the 'Future Planning Committee'.
  • The Nicknamer:
    • Toby's name is not Foetus Boy, Ron Weasely, Twatboy Slim or The Baby From Eraserhead, but Malcolm doesn't seem to care. He extends this selective amnesia to practically everyone he encounters, including Baldemort, General Flintstone and J Edgar fuckin' Hoover.
    "Rob, Innes, Little Bo Cock Jockey and The Leaky fuckin' Minge Box, go back to your desks and prepare briefing."
    • Toby also receives a "Go fuck yourself, Frodo" from General Miller.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Malcolm Tucker is pretty widely seen as being a caricature of Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's former press director. And it's pretty easy to see Linton Barwick as a Doug Feith or Paul Wolfowitz. Also, the whole film is a pretty thinly-veiled portrayal of the build-up to the war with Iraq.
  • No Party Given: As with the British government in the TV show, we never directly learn the political party of the governing U.S Administration. But, given the nature of the events depicted, we can take a pretty good guess.
  • Nobody Poops: The writers really like subverting this trope.
  • Oh Crap: Happens whenever a particularly bad piece of news is received (i.e. very frequently).
  • Older than They Look: The actors playing the young White House staffers ("Your master race of highly-gifted toddlers") are all Older Than They Look. As is Chris Addison.
  • Only Friend: Jamie to Malcolm.
  • Only Sane Man: Judy appears to be one of the only people in the movie with her head screwed on fully. Needless to say, everyone pretty much ignores or abuses her and Toby spends most of the movie actively plotting against her. She ends up having the last laugh over him as the whole thing ends up completely destroying his career while she emerges unscathed.
  • Orwellian Editor: Most notably, rewriting an intelligence report because it doesn't say what they want. But perhaps more disturbingly, Linton seems to treat his own memory of events this way:
    Linton: "Went well in there."
    Aide: "Got a little hairy at times."
    Linton: (breezily) "No it didn't."
  • Playing Against Type: James Gandolfini as Pentagon Dove General Miller.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Simon Foster. Bored with his position and obsessed with PR. He is more worried about getting 'The funny question' right on Question Time than anything else.
  • Portmanteau: the original TV series coined the phrase "omnishambles." The movie attempts to do the same with "catastrofuck." (A variant, "clusterfuck", is also heard but was popular before this film.)
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Chad. His desperate methods to get closer to Linton Barwick include carrying a squash racquet in the hope that Linton will see it and suggest a game. Unfortunately he forgets to take the price tags off first. Even more unfortunately, Linton clearly doesn't notice that Chad even exists in the first place. Ironically, for all his sucking up and Smug Snake behaviour, he ends up being shafted and left with the losing side, whereas Liza—over whom he has spent the entire movie trying to smugly lord it—ends up getting the position with Linton he's coveted.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Foster gets sacked from his Government Cabinet posting and has to return to his constituency. Leaving him back in the political wilderness.
  • Separated by a Common Language: The film gets in a reminder that no-one swears like the British:
    Karen Clarke: "You just sat there like a... what do you call it in England? A wanker!"
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Armando Iannucci ensured he could create a realistic portrayal of the US State Department by illegally infiltrating it. By using a fake BBC pass he was able to get past security and spend an hour inside taking photographs: "Part of me thought it was fun, another part thought it was probably international espionage".
    • James Gandolfini visited the Pentagon (legally) while researching for the part of General Miller. He went as far as getting a haircut from the Pentagon barber and having some scary conversations with generals. His recollection of one who couldn't actually remember if he'd killed anyone later inspired one of Malcolm's "Have you ever even actually killed anyone?" in the film.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smug Snake: Chad. He likes to brag about his plans to become a senior aide to Linton, but his role as Linton's chief kiss-ass just antagonizes pretty much everyone... except Linton, who barely registers his existence, and can't even remember his name.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Among the "media forces of darkness" Malcolm threatens Simon with if he makes a fuss over being sacked is to have his "climb the mountain of conflict" comment made into one of these.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The UK trailer is pretty much the whole film condensed into two minutes. Lucky non-UK audiences got the delightful Dr. Strangelove-inspired trailer instead.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Most of the cast but Toby arguably comes across as the most dislikeable, being the particularly obnoxious combination of selfish, weak and self righteous.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    Liza: "How far would you go with Linton, you freaky little stalker? Downtown? Or all the way up Brokeback Mountain?"
  • Verbal Backspace: Linton, who hates swearing to the extent of calling Malcolm a "useless piece of ''S-star-star-T''". Malcolm's later response is fantastic:
    Malcolm: "Y'know, I've come across a lot of psychos, but none as fucking boring as you. You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing so I'll sort that out. You are a boring F-star-star-CUNT!"
  • Villain Protagonist: Malcolm. In the series he's more of an Anti-Hero.
  • Villainous BSOD: In the Meditation Room Malcolm finds himself lost for words, unable to think of a decent threat for Toby, before Toby leaves him staring into space.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Malcolm and Jamie ride again: "The fax machine was there and it's easier to kick".
  • Walk and Talk:
    • "...and he is gone!"
    • "I'm really quite badly scalded now!"
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: After Simon reads "some extracts from the Riot Act" over turning up late and obviously hungover and unprepared to their meeting with Karen Clarke, Toby protests at this because "it's not like I threw up in there, is it?" Unfortunately for him, Simon has some problems with this line of defence:
    Simon: No. You're right. I'm being unfair. I should be thanking you for not throwing up. Well done. You're a star. And you didn't wet yourself, did you? You're in the right city. You didn't say anything overtly racist. You didn't pull your dick out and start plucking it shouting "Willy Banjo!" No, I'm being really unfair! You got so much right... without actually being there for the beginning of one of the most important moments of my career. Thanks. You're a legend.
  • War Is Hell: "This is the problem with civilians wanting to go to war. Once you've been there you never want to go again unless you absolutely have to.... It's like France."
  • Whitehall
  • The White House
  • You Bastard: Malcolm is such a charming and charismatic character that audiences find themselves cheering him on as he tries to show Linton Barwick that he isn't a worthless piece of ess-star-star-tee... even though achieving this would also involve starting an illegal war.

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