When we got our news that my comedy film In The Loop had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the forthcoming Academy Awards, one sage suggested to me that the movie was put in the Adapted category because it was based on comedy already being uttered in the UK's ongoing Iraq Inquiry.
Actually, he's not far off the point. The Inquiry has been going for some months now, has questioned every senior UK government personality involved in the decision to go to war in 2003, climaxing recently with a daylong interrogation of former Premier Tony Blair. But the facts being thrown up publicly by the Inquiry -- the poor planning, the cost-cutting on military equipment, the closeness of Tony Blair to George Bush that bordered on the homoerotic, the dazzled nature of our UK politicians as they entered the Whitehouse, like cash-strapped tourists on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland, and, above all, the mad dash to hit a predetermined timetable for invasion under the pretext of evidence gathered form dubious sources -- all this had been for some time the stuff of private conversation to anyone who worked in or near government recently.
It was these private murmurings and concerns that I listened to as I was researching the film, and they formed the main staging posts in the eventual plot of In The Loop.
I had no qualms about making the film a comedy because the events leading up to the war seemed to me essentially farcical. What has been surprising is how unexpectedly funny the Inquiry has been. That's not to make light of the tragic events the witnesses before the Inquiry were involved in. But it does suggest to me that these people were in the grip of a mind-set that was as delusory, contradictory and self-centered as any set of characters from a Dickens novel. In The Loop was about how big events are started by a collective will of many little people.
The Inquiry brought before us a line-up of retired Military Generals, Senior Intelligence Officers, and respected Civil Servants who all happily conceded that things weren't right, that there were questions of legality, or that vital equipment was in short supply, but who defended their silence by saying it wasn't for them to take the final decision. People ran from responsibility like it was an infection. The most hilarious and memorable being Lord Goldsmith, a Gilbert and Sullivan character who was our Attorney General at the time, and who kept telling Blair the war was illegal right up until he changed his mind to 'the better view' six days before invasion. He admitted he changed judgment when he was told the French had dropped some of their objections. When asked who told him, he said: the Americans. When asked if he'd spoken to the French to confirm this he said, 'Of course not, I couldn't do that. We were in dispute with them.' And so, the legality of an act of war was determined by a second-hand conversation reported by a biased party.
But the most comical speech came from an ex-Director of Communications. Tony Blair's former right-hand man, Alastair Campbell, stood by 'every word' of a notorious intelligence dossier Blair put before the House of Commons prior to a vote on war, even though earlier testimony from senior intelligence chiefs had described the evidence as 'sporadic and patchy.' When asked how he could still support it, and to defend Blair's gloss on the dossier as supplying proof 'beyond doubt' Campbell gave an explanation straight out of Lewis Carol: the Prime Minister could take what was 'patchy' and describe it as 'beyond doubt' because as Prime Minister he was entitled to reclassify the facts according to the value system he himself imposed upon them. Or, as Campbell put it, 'The Prime Minister was giving his assessment of the assessment he had been given.'
This is the language of 'Alice In Wonderland' where characters appear from no-where and say they can use words to mean what they want them to mean rather than what everyone else agrees they mean. Campbell went one step further through the looking glass when he later wrote a letter to the Inquiry team 'clarifying' his earlier support for the intelligence dossier. In it, he said he stood by the report because he was in fact in his mind answering a slightly different question relating to the hypothetical re-playing of events but this time without the factual inaccuracies that existed in the first report. He ended by hoping he'd clarified 'the answer I thought I was giving to the question I thought I was being asked.' If Tim Burton is thinking of doing a sequel to Alice In Wonderland, he knows where to find the scriptwriter. You never know, in this crazy world, Alastair Campbell could find himself nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
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