Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Iron Lady - Review

Film biopic telling the life story of the notorious Margaret Thatcher, starring Meryl Streep in the role of Maggie and Jim Broadbent playing her now deceased husband, as the eccentric buffoon, Denis Thatcher.

The Iron Lady tells us of Thatcher's rise, from her early aspirations to become an MP after graduating from Oxford, to the height of her turbulent years in power as Prime Minister.

Even before watching this film, I got the impression that it wouldn't exactly be the most flattering pro-Thatcher production. After all, the film industry isn't exactly renowned for its strong conservative leanings. And I suspected even further that it would be a hatchet job when I heard that Lady Thatcher and her family turned down an invitation to the film premiere in London.

So when the film opened showing Thatcher as an old codger suffering from senile dementia; having flashbacks about her days in office, and hallucinations about her dead husband Denis, conversing with him every time she was left alone, my suspicions were confirmed. I can't say I was especially surprised. I also thought it was amusing how her daughter, Carol (Olivia Coleman), was portrayed as a bumbling caricature of the real person, with her speech impediment and all.

It was interesting to see the young Margaret, played excellently I thought by Alexandra Roach, starting out as a geeky young girl with a Lincolnshire/Yorkshire accent, working as a shop assistant in her fathers grocery shop in Grantham. It appears that her father became her inspiration to get into politics, as he appeared to be an active and very passionate member of the community, even becoming Mayor of Grantham.

When the young woman graduates from Oxford and decides to become a candidate for office, it is actually quite adorable to see the transformation in her accent, from a northern lass into an affected received pronunciation. It clearly demonstrates that this was a woman with ambition and was something that her future husband found rather amusing - as well as attractive.

We are taken through Thatcher's years following her first elections to become an MP, to her time in the cabinet, and then her candidacy to become leader of the Conservative party. It was again amusing to watch her being groomed for leadership, with yet more elocution and public speaking lessons. There's no doubt there were certain people at the time who invested a lot of money in her. She was clearly far more glamorous than the miserable old sods that were then leading up the Tory party. You could not help but get a sense that these people represented a country in decline, so Thatcher was presented as a breath of fresh air. Something to be optimistic about.

It was not at all surprising, however, that there is little mention of the 'chosen' figures that influenced much of her outlook at the time. Particularly as regards to economics, that she learnt whilst at the Institute of Economic Affairs. Characters such as Arthur Seldon that were the disciples of Friedrich von Hayek. And let us not forget Keith Joseph, the power behind the thrown of Thatcherism. The documentary 'Tory! Tory! Tory!' documents much of this. But this wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. This is the norm as far as these treasonous careerists are concerned.

Once in power, we see a lot of historical footage from much of the Nineteen Eighties, from the Falklands War to strikers riots and police brutality. We also get a proper feel for the boisterous and somewhat intimidating atmosphere of the House of Commons.

Much of the historical events that followed, from the Brighten Hotel Bombing to the Falklands Conflict, really makes you want to look into these happenings in further detail. Thatcher's handling of the Falkland Crises certainly gave you the impression of a resolute individual who was not afraid to act. Her declaration to 'Sink it!' when referring to the Belgrano shows her as a decisive (though cold hearted) individual, while her cabinet are shown to be very reluctant and weak. There is also certainly a very jingoistic streak in the woman as she tried to arouse the country to support her endeavours - and keep her in office.

Towards the end of her time as the head of the government, she is shown to be an obnoxious megalomaniac with little tolerance for what she sees as a very incompetent cabinet. From there on out, she is on her way down, as loyalty from her colleagues begins to wane. It is most peculiar that we do not see or hear from Norman Tebbit in this film, as he was a leading personality at the time and I am sure his character would have made the film far more interesting.

Though Streep is highly convincing in many respects, though not too dissimilar to the Spitting Image caricature, her performance gives you the impression of a woman who was completely in denial about her own femininity. An arch feminist if you will. She mocks those who act on their 'feelings', a common trait amongst women, and vows never to end her days washing a teacup. A woman constantly trying to prove that she was worthy of a place in a male dominated world.

There were many excellent scenes from this film that had me laughing out loud. The acting from Streep, Broadbent and the young Margaret was more than passable, though I felt that in many respects the characters they portrayed were, again, mere media caricatures of the real people. Enjoyable nevertheless. I would highly recommend it, for entertainment value if nothing else.

James Mac.

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