Iannucci and his team give the world of ‘The Thick of It’ a filmic spin by unfolding their story on either side of the Atlantic and guessing what may happen behind closed doors in Whitehall and Washington DC in the lead up to a contentious conflict in the Middle East. But much is familiar. Peter Capaldi returns as the Prime Ministerial attack dog Malcolm Tucker – think Alastair Campbell with rabies – and Chris Addison is again an ineffective Whitehall flunky whose lacks of scruples extend to blaming infidelity on his peacenik tendencies.
Tom Hollander very effectively picks up where Chris Langham left off: a fall guy for the conspiracies and gags of others, he’s the new, inexperienced, vaguely idealistic but vain Secretary of State for International Development who becomes a pawn for hawks and doves on either side of the pond when he accidentally supports and then denounces war in two disastrous media appearances. In Washington, James Gandolfini offers one of the film’s few moral centres as an army general against conflict because he’s been there and knows it’s horrific.
It’s not easy to transfer the spirit of a half-hour show to a feature film, and there are some chapters that drag, especially when Capaldi, who gets all the best lines, disappears from view. But mostly Iannucci keeps the pace up with snappy twists and turns, a tone that mixes screwball with precise observation and by keeping a keen eye on the performances of even minor characters, such as the over-achieving, barely legal automatons that pepper the offices of Washington. It’s a film that is both insanely funny and a desperate cry for sanity.