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Some kind anon has given me six months of paid time (you know who you are, and I suspect I do as well), and to reward them for their generosity I thought I should try having some actual content. After almost a year. W00t.

In the immediate aftermath of "The Hunt for Tony Blair", a review of British comedy team The Comic Strip Presents' political offerings seems topical. So, without further ado:




Over the years The Comic Strip Presents have made three politically themed films: "The Strike", "GLC: the Carnage Continues", and "The Hunt for Tony Blair." They vary in their amusement value and how much Eighties hair they contain.


Arthur Scargill addresses Parliament


"The Strike" (1988) is the first of the three and generally held to be the best, probably by people who don't remember it well. The plot involves a former Welsh miner who writes a screenplay about Arthur Scargill and the miner's strike and sells the movie to a Hollywood studio which turns it into a schlocky blockbuster. They cast Al Pacino (Peter Richardson) as Scargill, who spends most of the movie brooding, being beaten up by militant miners who are plotting to blow up the Sellafield nuclear reactor to guarantee a continued demand for coal, and rescuing his six-year-old daughter from collapsing mines. Naturally the strike needs a happy Hollywood ending, so Scargill races to Westminster on his motorcycle to give a moving speech on the Floor of the House that brings Parliament to tears and convinces them to leave the mines open. The film intercuts between the production team, where screenwriter Paul watches in helpless despair as the producers shove his script in the blender and Al Pacino throws his weight around as only a big name Hollywood actor can, and clips from the craptacular movie "Strike!" itself.

The problem with "The Strike" is that it's a two-trick pony that runs for an hour. There are only two jokes in the whole film: Hollywood invading Britain and the miners' strike as filtered through a Hollywood lens. Both these jokes are funny, but they're not an hour's worth of funny- for the movie to work it would need to be leavened by a cleverer script that would keep viewers laughing after they've gotten over the inherent absurdity of Scargill being played by Al Pacino, and that's missing here. The result is a film that is brilliant in concept but dull in execution. The other problem from a lolitical standpoint is that the film is 80% a send-up of Hollywood and only 20% a send-up of Scargill, and since it's not really a political satire I'm automatically less interested. But I challenge even the most dedicated film buff to get through this without looking at their watch.

To add insult to injury, "Strike!" features the Woolsack as the Speaker's seat in the House of Commons. This might have been intended as another factual error introduced by the Americans, but it's played straight, and for some reason this niggling detail really irritated me.

Humor: 1.5/5
80s Hair: 3/5


Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone eye the enemy


"GLC: The Carnage Continues" (1990) is a sequel to "The Strike" and in my opinion the best of the three films, because it has multiple jokes that are actually funny and it's able to use the film's nominal genre in service of the political satire. (I realize that the whole point of "Strike!" was it was the wrong genre for a movie about the miner's strike, but the cognitive dissonance was only funny for five minutes, and it needed to be funny for an hour.) As with "The Strike," the central conceit is that Hollywood has once again turned an episode of the British Left's struggle against Thatcher, in this case Ken Livingstone's takeover of the Greater London Council, into a schlocky blockbuster, this time an action flick starring Charles Bronson (Robbie Coltrane) as Ken. Fortunately The Comic Strip Presents only spends about two minutes on the framing device and moves on to the film before it gets boring.

Working class hero Ken have given up on politics and is more interested in a snarky romance with his neighbor Joan and her giant wig, but he's pushed back into the fray when he learns of Tory Councillor Horace's plot to flood South London on the orders of the Ice Maiden Thatcher, younger, prettier and slightly less human here than in real life. He wins the election and sets off to clean up the GLC, chucking out the corrupt mayor and replacing him with a black guy and setting up nuclear disarmament and gay rights initiatives. Meanwhile, Thatcher punishes Horace and her cabinet for their failures with amusing brutality, and cryptic and Zorro-esque elder statesman Tony Benn warns Ken of the danger he's in. Ken takes no heed until the mayor's goons try to drown him and Thatcher abolishes the GLC, at which point he goes to imprisoned horticulture lover Prince Charles for aid, and they all wind up in a bunker holding off Thatcher's army with machine guns. There are also amusing cameos by Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock. Unlike "Strike!" it's close enough to the real political events and the characterization is accurate enough that the satire actually works, and the result is hilarious.

Humor: 4.5/5
80s hair: 4/5 (purely for Joan)


Tony and friends


"The Hunt for Tony Blair" (2011) is a rather different animal from its predecessors- it is presented without a framing device (to its benefit) and it has its own plot rather than hewing however loosely to real political events. It's a black and white 50s noir pastiche in which the police are pursuing Tony (Stephen Mangan) for murder and he flees across Britain, drawing various other political figures into the plot along the way. The film's great strength is Tony Blair, both the narcissistic madness of the real one and Mangan's spot-on portrayal of a slightly more sociopathic version. It's never funnier than when Mangan is quoting verbatim from Tony's autobiography (and I'm relieved to discover that everyone else on Earth apparently finds his Ayes Lobby scene with Peter Mandelson at the start of the 1994 leadership contest as creepy as I do).

Its great weakness, unfortunately, is everything The Comic Strip Presents added. I've come to realize that the inherent absurdity of New Labour cannot be embellished. Much as I love Malcolm Tucker, the sad truth is that his counterparts in our universe make his Government look sane and professional. The bits where The Comic Strip Presents just allow the characters to be themselves are pure gold- Tony shoving people out of moving trains and then casually rationalizing his actions, Peter playing coy with the police, Alastair Campbell bullying John Scarlett into altering the September dossier, Gordon Brown trying to murder Tony, Carole Chaplin being Carole Chaplin (her scene with Tony is brilliant and justifies the existence of the entire film). But the plot is limp and unfocused, and while the mise-en-scène is lovingly rendered it's a distraction from the NuLabby psychodrama and idiocy rather than a tool to emphasize it. It's been seven years since we went to war in Iraq- Tony-as-murderer is neither funny nor clever by now, it's just a generally accepted fact of life. It's not enough to pin a plot on. If they'd cut out the whole police chase and just given Gordon a gun and let him stalk Tony through Westminster, it would have been a better film. There are also a few places where the satire falls short of the mark: Blair/Thatcher isn't in itself a pointed enough political salvo to be launched without cover fire. In film that also gave us the genius that is Tony phoning up Bernie Ecclestone to ask for a fast car, the missteps are jarring and odd, and they come together to make an unsatisfying whole.

Humor: 3/5
80s hair: 0/5

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