Co-creator of The Day Today Armando Iannucci takes his other creation The Thick Of It and uses it to slam this vicious and often very funny satire about the run-up to the Iraq War into cinema screens. Tom Hollander is the Secretary of State for International Development, and in mouthing off inane New Labour slogans inadvertently comes to the attention of America’s neocons, led by Rumsfeld analogue David Rasche (an inspired piece of casting). There’s no grand (or at least not clever) conspiracy, just some vain and often very stupid people who don’t think they’ll get away with it trying it on. And to their utter, often farcical shock, and despite Hollander’s bumbling best intentions they get their invasion. But this story isn’t about the history, it’s a strong character piece, showing the utter normality of the people who drove us to the brink. It works because although director and co-writer Iannucci, with his TV background, falls back regularly on sit-com style gags, easy toilet humour and set pieces, the relationships which underpin the story ring true. Alistair Campbell et al probably did just chance their arm with the ‘dodgy dossier’. People who promised to resign didn’t, then did, then didn’t, caught as they were by naked ambition when confronted with the need for principle. The vanity, the ambition, the sheer incompetence, which noone stops because noone believes it’ll actually work, everything is here. And so is Peter Capaldi in a triumphant turn as Alistair Campbell analogue Malcolm Tucker, swearing at and manipulating everyone who he thinks it’ll take to get his boss what he wants. Except in doing so he’s unwittingly doing the US administration’s bidding.
It loses its way slightly with Hollander’s special adviser Chris Addison, who although he’s interesting as a narrative device and is often responsible for pushing the film forward, has very little to offer the political satire. So he cheats on his girlfriend when in Washington? Big deal. It just gives Iannucci opportunity for some very cheap, British gags, which don’t sit very well alongside the high quality of the satire. The time Hollander spends back in his constituency too, is also most likely to appeal to the upcoming American audience – a quaint, ramshackle British MP’s surgery is surely rarely that bleak and nigh Victorian! I shouldn’t finish the review without talking up James Gandolfini as the principled general (Powell anyone?), who knows full well there is no case for war, but simply can’t keep up with the skullduggery going on around him. He doesn’t try to mimic Colin Powell, rather creates a new, highly sympathetic national hero, with an iron fist, yet too big a heart. All acting in concert, it’s compelling viewing and really shouldn’t be missed. If it had just dared to take the risks which The Day Today thrived on, it would be a Great Film. As it is it’s pretty good. 8/10