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The Iron Lady

June 5, 2013

The Iron Lady (2011)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Actors: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach

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Synopsis: An increasingly frail and senile Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) reflects back on her life and political career.

Review: In the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s recent death, I wasn’t initially interested in throwing my two pennies’ worth to the online diatribe about her various political achievements. When some of my ‘friends’ on a certain social network however, mistakenly trotted out the cliché about it not being a time for personal attacks because a “woman and mother has died” I felt compelled to respond, because if Thatcher was one thing, she was a conviction politician, a woman wilfully in the public eye, manifesting policies that affected everyday lives, and she – more than anyone – would fully expect and welcome strong cogent arguments from all corners of the political spectrum about her legacy. It’s ironic then that The Iron Lady makes the cinematic equivalent of my friends’ misapplied etiquette booboo in trying to overly humanise Thatcher, and fence-sit on (if not, wash over) the majority of her highly ideologically-driven and controversial political career.

While the idea of an artsy ‘remembrance of things past’ narrative hook is always a good one, and could have carried some weight here with the obvious juxtaposition of an elderly, ailing Thatcher, against the sheer vitality of her political verve in her younger and middle-aged years, The Iron Lady spends too much time in the ‘senile’ section of the plot, and I dislike the Dennis Thatcher-appearing-as-a-benign-ghost mechanism also. It seems designed to soften the inherent darkness implicit in Thatcher’s encroaching senility, and her flashbacks might have been more poignant had they simply been remembrances or hallucinations rather than witterings to the apparition of her much-loved husband. The much parlayed stereotype of Dennis Thatcher as a uniformly bumbling, light-hearted counterfoil to his wife doesn’t get much scrutiny here, and with Jim Broadbent in the role, it has strong echoes of Iris, which made the similar cardinal sin of gorging on its female protagonist’s poignant late failures of the flesh rather than showing what made her such a colossus in the first place.

It would be unfair not to finish on one or two areas that the film does better in, as it’s not a uniformly poor piece. There’s a surprisingly good performance by Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher – it’s not tricksy at all, and if anything, gets better in the darker, more poignant moments as Thatcher’s grip on power slips and when she subsequently fades away in her old age. It’s also a well shot and directed film. I think the early scenes in Grantham (though very quick and suggestive) do a good job of characterising Thatcher’s core thrift and drive which were to be the bedrocks of her politics and rise to power. (June 2013)

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