British satirist Armando Iannucci didn’t have to look too far for an example to prove his point about the surreal nature of modern-day politics.
At the annual gathering of Britain’s Conservative party, two of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s aides were this week caught on camera battling over whether he should be seen holding a disposable coffee cup.
The scene, widely shared on social media, was reminiscent of Iannucci’s hugely popular TV satire “The Thick of It”, which caricatured British politicians and their advisers as largely inept, hapless and image-obsessed.
“It’s almost like now is sort of a parody… they’ve taken the storylines but then decided to muck about with them,” the 55-year-old filmmaker added.
Iannucci, who also created the multiple Emmy-winning US TV show “Veep” and the 2009 big-screen satire “In the Loop”, said the rise of controversial leaders like Johnson meant “nothing feels real anymore”.
“I don’t quite believe that Boris Johnson is the prime minister — I don’t think anyone quite believes it,” Iannucci told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.
Iannucci, who spent more than two decades creating hit comedy TV before moving on to cinema, said today’s politics is changing how satirists like himself approach their craft.
“The comedians who are most effective are the ones who then turn into kind of journalists,” he said, citing John Oliver, the British comic who hosts a popular weekly show in the US.
“It’s not just about jokes, but it’s about if the politicians aren’t going to deal with the facts, then it’s left to the comics to deal with it.”
– ‘Positive celebration’ –
Iannucci spoke before his latest movie, a quirky adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1850 novel “The Personal History of David Copperfield”, opened the London Film Festival on Wednesday.
He opted to adapt the semi-autobiographical story of a young man’s colourful exploits and interactions in Victorian-era Britain out of love for the book and an eagerness to do something different from his 2018 historical comedy “The Death of Stalin”.
But Iannucci concedes that the country’s current Brexit-dominated politics probably played a “subconscious” part in the choice — and his light-hearted, highly satirical approach to the 170-year-old story.
“The debate in the last two or three years here has been quite negative and toxic,” he said.
“I wanted to make something that was actually a positive celebration of what defines Britain today.
“It’s not just that kind of negative isolationist quality, it’s that sense of vibrancy, life and creativity and fun,” Iannucci added, noting that adapting the novel highlighted the country’s rich comedic and literary heritage.
The movie also showcases an array of British acting talent, with colour-blind casting seeing a number of non-white actors play white characters in the book, including Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) cast as David Copperfield.
London’s annual film festival will this year showcase 229 feature films from 79 countries over 12 days, closing with a screening of Martin Scorcese’s new film “The Irishman” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.