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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 2, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

    No Laughing Matter

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Worst political movie ever made? That was my initial and perhaps somewhat harsh judgment as I left the cinema after watching In the Loop which was so widely-praised I just had to go and see it. The main character is meant to be based on Alastair Campbell, legendary spin-doctor for Tony Blair.


     Alastair Campbell: film version of his diaries would have been better (Photograph by
    Alan Betson)

    The film is adapted from the BBC series The Thick of It and the storyline is loosely-based on events surrounding the production of the “Dodgy Dossier” and the miasma of wrong “intelligence” that was used to provide a justification for the invasion of Iraq. Ireland was on the UN Security Council around that period and the present writer spent a good deal of time at the world body”s East River headquarters, even visiting the late Dag Hammarskjold’s “Meditation Room” where a lengthy scene takes place in the movie (Conor Cruise O’Brien, who spent many years at the UN, told me he found the room ”creepy”).

    Directed by Armando Iannucci, it is supposed to be a comedy but I laughed about twice through the entire picture. There’s a great deal of bad language with the f-word in almost every sentence uttered by the “Campbell” character. Nothing wrong with that from an artistic point of view – it works a treat in a film like In Bruges.

    But the script isn’t very smart or witty and f-words don’t get a laugh on their own, at least not nowadays. Maybe a straight cinematic version of Campbell’s Downing Street diaries would work better.

    If you want a good laugh as well as a sense of what it’s like on the inside, you couldn’t do better than our own Seán Duignan’s One Spin on the Merry Go-Round. “Diggie” is a superb raconteur and this is a highly-entertaining account of his time as Government Press Secretary to then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. You should be able to get it in the public library or on one of the internet book sites.

    • Eoin says:

      Still haven’t seen In The Loop. But Diggie’s One Spin on the Merry Go-Round is well worth the read. Another good read from the same period is Fergus Finlay’s Snakes And Ladders. The two books complement each other really well. Chapters bookshop used to have a good few copies of each (but it’s a while since I was in there).

    • Deaglán says:

      Lest anyone think we have a bias towards the capital city on this blog, I assume you mean Chapters on Dublin’s Parnell St?

    • Kynos says:

      Can’t stand that b*+$£!” Campbell.

    • Eoin says:

      The Irish Times accused of having a Dublin bias? Never!

      Yes, Chapters on Parnell St, Dublin 1. Always a good spot to spend an hour browsing books that you’ll never read in full…

    • Des FitzGerald says:

      I thought the movie was a load of rubbish. Pure drivel. I live and work in Canary Wharf and I noticed lots of city types with their loud ‘look at me’ fake laughs at all the swearing and threats. Thinking how funny it is – wishing they could behave like that and knowing if they did they’d be out on their ear – especially now.

      In particular I’m amazed as to what sort of work environment would put up with an employee smashing a fax machine – which I assume was paid for by the taxpayer. I mean, if someone where I work did that, they’d be out the door so fast.

      I’ve been highly involved in Fine Gael and never once have I ever experienced or heard of anyone behaving even remotely like Campbell did.

      It smacks of a movie about how political types wish politics was. A very poor reflection on UK politics – where is the UK version of The West Wing? Are they just incapable of producing a quality, unrealistic but realistic, portrayal of some of the good that politics can do when the right people become politicians.

      Is it any wonder people are so cynical?

    • Deaglán says:

      Well, if you read Campell’s Diary you will come across a fair amount of bad language. I have a feeling the fax machine incident might have some basis in reality – anyone out there help us on this?

    • robespierre says:

      Ah now The West Wing was a civics lesson for the United States of America’s liberal faction. It was pure and puerile fantasy.

      As Chomsky amongst many other academics have gone to great pains to demonstrate, America is a cycnical machine that only changes a nonce from administration to administration.

      American interests will always come first in all circumstances. America only cooperates to enhance its selfish interests and you can look at the current fiscal revisions being propounded by Obama as a recanting of the Clinton years.

      Empires always behave like empires. Americans are just good at changing the monarch.

    • Deaglán says:

      You wrote “cycnical”. Do you mean cyclical or cynical? Or maybe both?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      I have heard of a fax machine or photo copier incident attributed to the current occupant of No.10.

    • robespierre says:

      Good observance – a spell checker would be useful on the blogroll!

      I meant cynical but as I was speaking systemically cyclical cynicism is apt also. Look at the pork being stuffed into Democratic causes celébres at the moment.

      The fiduciary & fiscal measures being taken are a sop to the Democratic-leaning unions and while completely within the rights of the US in one sense, they also hint at a move towards a more autarkic USA which would be inimical to the survival of the World Trade Organisation talks. This is the main reason why I was an Obama sceptic. Read any of his early speeches when he spoke on trade, and be afraid.

      To underline how he is just as neo-realist as his predecessor in the White House, penalising the offshoring of manufacturing (dress it up as tax havens, it’s the same thing) is the easiest way to exercebate China’s problems in the downturn which is what this is aimed at. Jim Baker stopped South Korea becoming another Japan when he halved the value of the dollar in 1985.

    • Blackdwarf says:

      Most Inaccurate and Boring Review Ever Written?

      Is this the best that this reviewer can muster? A talking baby-all-gone doll could have provided a better synthesis and more interesting breakdown of the film. I really hope you didn’t get paid for this.

      Nothing on the humanization of Malcolm Tucker – something that Thick of It avoided – or the lack of any principles stacked to decision to go to war, such as presenting an interesting (or balanced caricature) of ‘the left’ as well as ‘the right’ in British politics?

      And why mention the UN Meditation Room without including any of the exchanges between the movie’s main protagonists or that scene being one of the film’s more poignant moments? Why mention CC O’B without any relevance to the movie apart from a throwaway remark?

      The film was not meant to be anything like the AC diaries – when did you think it was? And why are you harping on about them? There are vastly more interesting political biographies to read – and adapting AC’s diaries into a political comedy wouldn’t work if it stuck to the page now, would it?

      As a blatant satire on all political animals perhaps you should recommend readings that reflect a better execution of this endeavor – or are you supposing Campbell’s diaries do this better? Really?

    • Harry says:

      Wasn’t very impressed either. A couple of hilarious moments, especially the dressing down given by the hapless minister to his gormless adviser. Also when he tried to explain to his girlfriend the reasons he had slept with attractive female adviser to US secretary of state figure.
      The continuity was woejoes. The plot and plausibility strained credulity. The foul-mouthed Scot became a parody of itself. At some stage it stopped being a satire and just became a Punch and Judy show, and not a very funny one at that.

    • Sarah G says:

      Watch the first episode of The Thick of It, they went way over the top in the film and it didn’t work well but the series is pure genius. Just try one episode…it’s a modern day Yes, Minister.

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