Film review: The Iron Lady.

It’s relatively clear from my watching of the movie I’ve been waiting to see for many months that this major motion picture, charting both the young, middle and senior years of Britain’s longest-serving PM, was attempting to stay somewhat neutral. Mrs. Thatcher, as I hardly need to mention is frequently documented through divisive terms: the cream of the political crop or the (cold-hearted unmentionable ‘c’ word) of the Conservative Party. The main problem with this movie seems fairly easy to denote, especially because they are covering forty years of her personal history here and there; its scope is wide and its attention to detail is anything but cast-iron. within a two-minute recollection of the film, issues and thematics covered included: Margaret and her family in a blitz from the second World War; her first (but not second) failed attempt to enter parliament; her courtship and marriage to Dennis; her entrance into parliament and her neglect of her children; her time as an Education Secretary; her rise to the leadership; her election as PM; the death of Airey Neave and her relationship with the IRA; the Falkland wars and her dramatic downfall as leader of the Conservative Party. This rather rushed, brief documentation of all these key events played out as secondary to the image of a decrepit Thatcher unable to buy a pint of milk or make a cup of tea without support from others. This withered Mrs. T also suffers from hallucinations, but not necessarily dementia, which she is known to suffer from. It seems to be a cruel, callous way of selling this film – to focus on the Iron Lady being alone with her hallucinations – of her dead husband Dennis, played like an irritating court jester by Broadbent, frequently coming in and out of the forefront of her mind whilst she slowly seems to be going mad. Mark didn’t manage to make it in to the film at all, apart from in boyhood and Carol (played rather splendidly by Olivia Colman, who is very talented) seemed only marginally sympathetic when dealing with her obviously difficult mother’s growing range of issues; the indication was that her children didn’t seem to care about their own mother, a statement perhaps of her maternal neglect in their childhood. The weaving of Thatcher’s life in the noughties has elements of being well-told though, with Meryl being relatively convincing as the quite unique and formidable Margaret, even if you never quite forgot that we are watching Meryl-the-great-method-actress impersonating Margaret throughout. The grief and loneliness of the elderly in society also seemed semi-worthwhile, yet, again, it seems to have been based purely on a spicy sort of fiction that is both deceiving and inappropriate to the viewer.

Aside from that the film, when focusing on the elder stateslady, seems invasive and unnecessarily dull anyway, mainly because much of it revolves around stilted conversation with dull, bland domestic interiors framing every scene. To be able to hook an actress like Meryl into the part, it seemed like a very tame production indeed as opposed to a bold, fresh work. Even the frequent allusions to Margaret turning into an alcoholic by her deceased husband (who was well-known for his drinking) seemed to pass me by without any real emotional involvement into this domestic conversation – although, again I thought it was a total fiction that seemed to make her seem externally pathetic and weaker to the viewer.

Maybe this extended demise of Margaret is a hint at some sort of karma for her past failings or put so people could pity her sad state of an existence. Luckily the retelling of the young Margaret Thatcher is done rather splendidly, with two brilliant actresses firing on all cylinders that ambition and lecturing that framed her young years as a novice of politics. Those scenes were easily amongst the best because Margaret’s fervor was rather more apparent. Some of those bits within the film were real laugh out loud stuff, which was desperately needed with the solemnity that framed every scene like damp, dreary condensation.  It’s again a shame that Meryl’s role in this movie was to churn at all the major events with little style or substance, because the potential for this to have been a wonderful mini-series, maybe even two (far better pitched) films is obvious.

Further to my disappointment, the retelling of the events was poorly handled, messy, hurried and inaccurate. The Brighton Bomb event occurred in the film before the Falklands War which, considering 1982 and 1984 were far different years for Margaret’s reputation as a PM, a non-linear narrative is stretching the boundaries of good storytelling. The most important error though in this film is to ignore all the prominent characters that existed within the Thatcher years. Whilst I find Richard E. Grant almost unbearable in any role, his lines as Michael Hesseltine in this film totalled around the same amount as a minor monologue, and where was Norman Lamont or John Major? Neither were in the film even though this film supposedly covered Margaret’s downfall. Again, this is a shame because the attention to detail with set design and recreation is highly commendable, and far superior to the undeveloped script.

It was definitely a worthy film to see if you are interested in the most interesting PM of our recent history, however, the benefit of watching this film is more contained within aesthetics. You are skimming the surface of a thirty year history on a jet ski, and stopping for longer-than-neccessary pit stops at gas stations with the Thatcher of today. Anyway, I could go on for days discussing this very interesting project. As I say with all my reviews, find it, watch it, analyse it and decipher whether you can find any further merit within the film. I personally don’t think it’s an Oscar worthy performance from the Academy’s golden girl, but then I’m biased because the film lacked a great deal of that sweeping Thatcherism that characterised her personality, just as much as it characterised our politics. It gets a worthy 2/5 from my side of the fence.


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