‘He did not say ‘unforeseeable’. You may have heard him say that but he did not say that. And that is a fact.” The Minister for International Development, Simon Foster MP, has dropped a right clanger. In an unthinking moment, and on national television, he has accidentally averted war in the Middle East.

Or so it seemed . . . But now the PM’s spin-chief, Malcolm Tucker, is dashing about, yelling anti-semantic remarks at Britain’s news editors in a desperate effort to rewrite the morning’s headlines.

It turns out that the luckless Foster (Tom Hollander) has strayed from the party line. HMG, as Tucker (Peter Capaldi) makes clear, has no official position on the possibility of military intervention – and he’d like Foster to convey that to the press tout suite (he doesn’t actually say ‘tout suite’; but there’s plenty more French where that came from, and this is a family newspaper).

In the best comedic traditions, Foster’s attempt to unscramble the omelette leaves him with egg all over his face. In a regrettable ad lib, he tells the press that war is neither unforeseeable nor foreseeable, adding, “To walk the road of peace, sometimes we must be willing to climb the mountain of conflict” – the last five words of which promptly appear on every bumper inside the Washington beltway.

All the while, of course, the PM is in fact colluding with the American President, cooking up [sic.] the requisite ‘intelligence’ to swing a pro-war vote at the UN.

In The Loop is the blessed offspring of Armando Iannucci’s hilarious/cynical/foul-mouthed political comedy, The Thick of It (though licence-fee rebels and those with hectic social schedules can be assured they may enjoy the movie without the least knowledge of its televisual predecessor).

Though Foster is the star of the show – if such a glowing term can be used of the pint-sized incompetent – the anti-hero and source of all the best (and most bowel-voidingly scatological) one-liners is Capaldi’s Tucker. He and his feral/Scottish heavy, Jamie MacDonald (Paul Higgins), run the government’s Comms with all the graceless efficiency of a pair of Div. 2 centre-backs. (If In The Loop were not obviously a work of fiction, this is the point where we’d mention Alastair Campbell.) On the other side of the pond, Mimi Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of State is desperately manoeuvring to prevent the hawks riding roughshod over the Senate committee process and headlong into battle. She is aided and abetted in her efforts by the ‘dove’ General Miller, played by James Gandolfini, in terms of both physique and temperament, as though he’s just come out of prolonged hibernation. (“Have you ever actually killed anybody?” Tucker asks him, in the middle of one particularly bitchy spat. “And, no, falling asleep on them doesn’t count.”) Foster’s wing-man, Toby (Chris Addison), is the only one who consciously injects any humour into proceedings – the rest are all stupid, but fundamentally earnest – though this probably can’t be said to stretch to his hapless excuse for sleeping with the Assistant Secretary’s assistant/secretary: “Maybe, subconsciously, it was a last-ditch attempt to stop this awful, awful war.”

Even without the more obvious shaky-camera trappings of the mockumentary, In The Loop has enough of the verité going on to make you fearful that this might be how government is actually conducted (witness the climactic slanging match, for example, which occurs in the UN building’s Meditation Room).

And though the producers insist that the characters are not modelled on any real personalities, the ‘type’ casting is spot on, and the resulting satire ten times more vicious, if rather less polished, than anything from the Yes, Minister era (alas, we live in less genteel times: even Mrs Thatcher didn’t stoop to employing a tabloid journalist as her press chief).

The fact that everyone concerned, from the pimpliest Congressional aide to the British Ambassador, is, naturally, 100 per cent out of the loop makes one wonder if the film’s title is really a gentle synonym for ‘chasing their own arses’.

Either way, it is immensely satisfying to see, at last, an on-the-money comedy about the whole Bush-Blair-Iraq fiasco, and especially to note that this is a BBC production. Finally, some reckoning for the corporation’s public lambasting over the Gilligan/dodgy dossier affair.