In The Loop: The Spin Doctor as Hero

2009 August 4
by Zachary McCune

Armando Ianucci’s “In the Loop” might just be the best movie I’ve seen this summer. In it, a bumbling British minister steps out of his parties line on war, claiming “war is unforseable” and subsequently embroils the United States and Britain in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like a Butterfly Effect for global politics, “In the Loop” weaves a satire around the power of political misquoting and media spin in the 21st century. The star of the show is undoubtedly Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) who is never caught without a witty string of curses to put down even the most accomplished American generals and British Politicians. He is the thread that binds the film together, joyous connecting all of the political episodes beneath his attempt to keep the media’s attention on the right subject. Legend has it that his character is based on Alistair Campbell, a British Spin Doctor for Tony Blair.

The Spin Doctor as Hero

What can we say about a political film whose star is a spin doctor? If we consider a study of political cinema through protagonists, we quickly recognize a certain homogeny. Political films often center of political figures (i.e. Costas-Gavras “Z”) a maligned people (Pontecorvo’s “Battle of Algiers”) or a avenging figure of the left (such as in Spider’s Strategem). There are more, but all of these films can be reduced to individuals whose involvement in political reality seems direct and inalienable. They are in the cross-hairs of historical experience, not in the second world of media representation of politics and history. Even when journalists are presented as the protagonists of political cinema (as in The Passenger) they always have to escape the newsroom- their beat is the reality of politics in practice.

It is impossible then not to read Malcom Tucker as a sign of the 21st century’s political reality. In this day and age, power lies not in experience, but in representation. Tucker is a master of controlling the media and thus the comprehension of reality by society at large. He does this by intimating political figures into following the “party line.” While he claims that this service is done of behalf of the Prime Minister’s agenda, we never see Tony Blair, so Tucker seems to act alone. Appropriately, he is an avatar of an unrepresented political power, which is percisely how he employs the politicians around him, manuevering them so that they speak for him.

Revising British History

Simon Foster, the British Minister who first illicits Malcolm’s ire for claiming that “war is unforeseeable,” seems to represent a revisionist history of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War. “In the Loop” was produced in 2008, and is situated in a political reality that views the entire Iraq War as a mistake, at best, a mistake that was foisted on the Brits by war-hawk American tendencies. Foster is the avatar of this revisionist history, a victim of his own naivete and nonchalance. He is pigeon-holed as a war-monger for a statement on national radio, sent to Washington to talk about the possibility of war, and ultimately positioned to be a major sponsor of the decision to go to war. At this point, Foster balks, claiming he wants no such thing, allowing some vindication of peaceable British interests before the war, and absolving something of the British view of the war, as his partial absolvement places the blame more strongly on the American politicians.

American Politics, The Villainous Side of the Atlantic

Only one character in this film appears highly recognizable to Americans, this is the character of Linton Barwick, an American secretary who holds secret meetings to prepare for war with top Pentagon officials. This character is almost surely a sketch of Donald Rumsfeld, whose war-hawkish tendencies and penchant for the secretive recieve scathing political treatment here.


In all, “In The Loop” is a fun, potent political comedy, that reminds us why humor also needs a place in the world of cinematically adapting politics. For with the humor of the “In The Loop,” one finds himself laughing at the whole nightmare of a world where politicians and media pundits spin out of control towards war, but the laughing always ends with the realization that this joke is from an accident called recent history.

Further Notes

I got to see “In the Loop” as a perk for reviewing films at the Newport International Film Festival this year. The film was offered as the Festival Opening night film, and included an discussion after the film with Mimi Kennedy, who plays a peace-oriented American politician in the film. She had a lot to say about the film’s politicality, saying that it represented a direct commentary on the Bush years and the idiocy of general foreign policy work in the states.

I think this film should be required viewing for DC interns. I am making my brother, who will be working in the DC this fall, go see it this week. In the film, interns are routinely shown to be the real “brains” behind American politics.

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