When both the UK and the US are suggesting military intervention in the Middle East, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the Minister for International Development, unintentionally states that a war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable" during a radio interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) castigates Simon and tells him to toe the line. Toby Wright (Chris Addison), Simon's new aide, with the help of his girlfriend Suzy (Olivia Poulet), manages to get Simon into the Foreign Office meeting that day.
Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy), the US Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy, who is against military intervention, is leading the meeting and flags a report by her assistant Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky) titled "Post-War Planning, Parameters, Implications and Possibilities" (PWPPIP). The report heavily opposes intervention, noting the lack of intelligence except that which is coming from an unsubstantiated source known as "Iceman". Also during the committee it is hinted at that the US Assistant Secretary of State for Policy, Linton Barwick (David Rasche), may have set up a secret war committee. After being ambushed by reporters, Simon contradicts his previous statement by saying the government has to be prepared to "climb the mountain of conflict" and is again subjected to chastisement from Tucker.
Returning to the US, Karen and Liza conclude that Linton has created a war committee under the guise of Future Planning. At a party Karen teams up with General George Miller (James Gandolfini) who opposes the war believing that the US does not have enough troops to succeed. She tells him that they could use Simon on the committee as he would "internationalise the dissent". While on a fact-finding mission in Washington, Simon and Toby are invited by Karen to the Future Planning committee. Toby accidentally leaks the details of the meeting to a friend at CNN before meeting up with Liza at a bar; they end up sleeping together. Due to Toby's leak the Future Planning committee is swamped, but Karen and George fail to find out anything about the war. Both Karen and Linton turn to Simon to back their respective causes, but he struggles to say anything meaningful and ultimately does not take a side. Tucker, also in the US, is diverted by Linton to the White House for a fake briefing. He confronts Linton, who tells him that he must supply the US with the British intelligence on the situation in the Middle East, with which Linton will influence the vote on intervention.
Simon, back in his constituency of Northampton, is harassed by a constituent, Paul Michaelson (Steve Coogan), about the state of one of Simon's constituency office walls which he claims is on the verge of collapsing into his mother's garden. News of this reaches the papers, who criticise Simon for not acting on the issue. Suzy finds out about Toby's one-night-stand with Liza and they break up. When leaving their apartment he gives her a copy of PWPPIP to leak if she chooses, but she calls him a coward for not doing it himself.
The President rushes forward the security council vote on military intervention by vetoing tariffs on Chinese imports. Simon tells his Director of Communications Judy Molloy (Gina McKee), to leak to the press that he would resign if the committee votes in favour. Once at the UN Headquarters Tucker gets word that PWPPIP has been leaked, making a yes vote unlikely. It is later revealed that Michael Rodgers (James Smith) of the Foreign Office accidentally leaked it, not realising its importance. Miller and Tucker convince Jonathan Tutt (Alex MacQueen), the UK Ambassador, to push the meeting forward so that the leak will not have time to spread in the US. However, Linton asserts his dominance over Tucker by telling him that the British intelligence has to be handed over before a vote can be taken. Unable to make Jonathan reverse his changes and delay the meeting, Tucker, with the help of Senior Press Officer Jamie McDonald (Paul Higgins), fabricates the details of PWPPIP by forcing Michael to remove all the arguments against intervention and presenting it as the intelligence. Subsequently, the committee votes in favour of intervention.
After the vote, Miller informs Karen that he will not resign now that the war is happening. Simon realises that his own resignation is inevitable, but before he gets the chance, Tucker sacks him over his failure to prevent the collapse of the wall which had made headline news on television news. He tells Simon that he cannot take any sort of stand on the war because he has contradicted himself too many times. Simon is reduced to mundane constituency business. A new Minister for International Development arrives at the office.
The actors include Tom Hollander, who went on to appear in one episode of The Thick of It, Gina McKee, Steve Coogan, and seven American actors including James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, and David Rasche. Several actors from The Thick of It appear in the film, including Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Paul Higgins, James Smith, Alex MacQueen, Olivia Poulet, and Joanna Scanlan, and also, in very small roles, Samantha Harrington, Eve Matheson, and Will Smith. The only characters from the show, however, are Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) and Jamie McDonald (Higgins), with brief appearances by Tucker's secretary Sam Cassidy (Harrington) and journalist Angela Heaney (Lucinda Raikes). The other Thick of It actors who appear play new characters, albeit very similar to the ones they portrayed in the series. Likewise, Anna Chlumsky went on to portray a similar but nominally different character in the subsequent American series, Veep.Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, Director of Communications for the Prime Minister
Tom Hollander as Simon Foster, Secretary of State for International Development and MP for Northampton.
Chris Addison as Toby Wright, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for International Development
Gina McKee as Judy Molloy, Director of Communications for the UK Department for International Development
Mimi Kennedy as Karen Clark, US Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy
Anna Chlumsky as Liza Weld, advisor to Karen Clark
James Gandolfini as Lieutenant General George Miller, Senior Military Assistant to the United States Secretary of Defense
David Rasche as Linton Barwick, US Assistant Secretary of State for Policy
Enzo Cilenti as Bob Adriano, advisor to Assistant Secretary Linton
Zach Woods as Chad, junior staffer at the US State Department
Paul Higgins as Jamie McDonald, "the crossest man in Scotland," Senior Press Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister
James Smith as Michael Rodgers, Director of Diplomacy at the UK Foreign Office
Olivia Poulet as Suzy, civil servant at the Foreign Office and Toby's girlfriend
Steve Coogan as Paul Michaelson, an aggrieved constituent of Simon Foster in Northamptonshire
Alex MacQueen as Sir Jonathan Tutt, United Kingdom Ambassador to the United Nations
The writing of In The Loop followed the methods developed during The Thick of It television series. Co-writer Jesse Armstrong explained:
Noting that The Thick of It had been inspired by the Blair government's attacks on the BBC in the wake of the Iraq war, the magazine Cinema Scope described In The Loop as a retelling of the chain of events that inspired Iannucci to devise the series." In an article for The Guardian, Iannucci wrote:
Iannucci has stated: "We don't go up to White House level, we deal mainly with state department underlings, the kind of people that actually make decisions with enormous political consequences."
In the Loop was a collaboration between BBC Films and the UK Film Council. Filming took place between May 2008 and December 2008, during a lengthy hiatus between The Thick of It's second season (which aired in the autumn of 2005) and its third (which aired in the autumn of 2009, after the release of In the Loop).
The film was shot on location in London and Washington, D.C. During a set visit, Time Out London noted the style of filming is highly similar to The Thick of It:
Iannucci himself mentioned progress on the film in several columns for The Observer newspaper.
One scene was filmed at the DC nightclub Black Cat; the band performing is Cannabis Corpse. The American political journalist and blogger Spencer Ackerman was one of the film's consultants.
The world premiere was held at the Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2009. The European gala premiere screening was held in the independent Glasgow Film Theatre as the opening of the 2009 Glasgow Film Festival on 12 February 2009, attended by Iannucci and members of the cast. The film was released on 17 April 2009 in the United Kingdom. The film was picked up by IFC Films for distribution in the US, and began screening on 24 July 2009.
The Thick of It returned to the BBC for a third season later in 2009.
The film was released to critical acclaim. Reception to the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was particularly positive. Damon Wise, writing in The Times was particularly complimentary, giving the film five stars, stating "It's hard to settle on a standout element because it's all so outstanding, from the performances to the one-liners to the plot." Screen International's David D'Arcy was complimentary, but noted that the release of the film may be poorly timed, given the new presidency of Barack Obama, stating "its exuberant, boundless cynicism will test the demand for political satire in an Obama-infatuated America." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune put the film as #9 on his top ten list of 2009.
The film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 94% of the reviews they tallied for the film were positive, based on 166 reviews.
In The Loop was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010.