Last time I tried to watch this, I really wasn’t in the mood. Today I was. I liked it.
The first half hour or so was still a bit rough going. I didn’t particularly like any of the people I was meeting or any of the non-jokes they were telling. Malcolm Tucker still seemed like a guy who existed to chew people out with overly baroque threats and lots of F-bombs, and all the milquetoasts around him were…well, “milquetoast” sounds too pleasant and tasty a word, really. “Milk toast” is what it sounds like. Creamy, crisp, comforting. None of the characters are all three.
But then they aren’t supposed to be, I guess. Because this is, to my perhaps politically myopic eyes, a story about vicious, bullying, unstoppable Machiavellians who want war and the bumbling, cowardly, ineffectual doofuses who utterly fail to stop it. And if so, perhaps it’s a far more urgent political satire than I’d expected.
The doofuses barely have convictions at all, and the script has them half-assing and questioning and denying every positive step they take. They attempt to suppress their own dove-leaning report because it’s politically unpopular, and when it’s nearly too late, they botch the job of leaking it properly. Simon Foster, the joke of an MP at the center of the film is, yes, a joke of an MP, dithering about the “lighthearted” question he’d like to nail on tomorrow’s chat show appearance, swallowing his foot in every public statement, failing even to help his constituents with minor residential issues, failing to resign decisively in protest of the war decision, and even failing to masturbate to a shark documentary (don’t ask). It should be funny, but it isn’t, quite, because either Foster is a complete fiction with no basis in reality, in which case there’s no biting satire to be had, or he’s a legitimate exaggeration of what some real politicians are like, in which case I find myself wanting to cry instead of laugh. He’s the David Brent of politics, by design, I’m assuming, and those characters always ride the fine line between comedy and tragedy.
So when the Furies descend upon Foster (only two of them, male, Scottish), and step in to take control of the situation, even though they’re allied with the forces of evil it’s hard not to root for them, and that’s really uncomfortable. We’re happy to watch these professional assholes barracuda their way through all these bubbleheads. We like watching Jamie MacDonald kick fax machines to pieces. We like seeing Malcolm Tucker go toe-to-toe with General Miller and take him down, even though the General is the one who appreciates the cost of war and is working to prevent it. It would be a boring story if we liked everyone we agreed with and loathed everyone we didn’t, and yet it’s pretty much the polar opposite. Staffer Toby Wright, for instance, is the most punchable character I’ve seen in a film in a long time, and he’s the one who comes closest to stopping the war (well, with the considerable aid of his ex-girlfriend, which is part of the problem).
Still, I’m glad I watched it, not least because I now see how satisfying it’s going to be to watch Peter Capaldi sort out the Daleks. He won’t do it by swearing at them, but the much-vaunted swearing isn’t what makes the character. It’s the steel behind it, and I can’t imagine we won’t see quite a bit of that next fall.