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The Iron Lady June 25, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Well, that was an odd one. Finally got to see the Iron Lady – Thatcher biopic, with Meryl Streep playing Thatcher. First up enormous kudos to Streep for capturing her subject so efficiently. Most who lived through the period will, I think, agree that it was a superb performance, and way beyond an emulation.

That said, as a film I think Roger Ebert’s acerbic observation that “Few people were neutral in their feelings about her, except the makers of this picture.” [well worth reading the full review] is probably spot on. It wasn’t antagonistic to Thatcher, nor was it very much in favour of her. In a way that was probably no bad thing, but it made for odd viewing – how was one meant to respond? On a human level as a person falls into dementia with sympathy? A sort of shiver of recognition at the snobbishness and class and gender disdain with which she was treated by the Tories when she first started out on her political career (though these things were clues, were they not, Margaret, and couldn’t there have been better paths for her radical instincts to take?). Hostility in relation to her political positions later? Sympathy and hostility when she began to lose it in the last years as PM?

All those? None? And the framing device of dementia was both clever and irritating. Was this merely a twist on the old Enoch Powell line about all political lives ending in failure, being reworked to all lives end in failure – which is true. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Other oddities. One would have to have a certain regard – on a human level – for Dennis Thatcher who took the, for the time and for his class, unusually enlightened attitude of being happy to stay out of the limelight as her career advanced. He also seems to have been something of a wit. But hold on. This was a man who on one occasion it appears went to South Africa when the pressure got too much. Pre-end of apartheid South Africa. Mark Thatcher too ended up in SA. Carol Thatcher (played masterfully by Olivia Coleman) had a controversial stint with the BBC which one would have to wonder whether it speaks volumes about a blend of naivety, obstinacy and offensiveness that might indeed be very Thatcher indeed.

Some unusual choices in regards to the events around her premiership. Airey Neave’s death. The bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton (particularly well done and – again on a human level – chilling). Ireland figure prominently in matters. Miners, not so much. No reference at all to the strike which was most peculiar (and on another subject, is the Wapping dispute falling out of public memory, it seems to have a lot less said about it than I’d expect given its prominence at the time). Instead there was a greater focus on the Poll Tax which laid her low. Fair enough, the latter was hugely important, but… somehow the raw class antagonisms that we saw early on (with a near cameo from a rather prominent Game of Thrones actor as her much beloved father), didn’t seem to translate quite as neatly into her political career. Speaking of near cameo’s there was Giles from Buffy as Geoffrey Howe, and darn fine too at it. There was a near blink and you’d miss him Richard E Grant as Heseltine, and nowhere near enough about him. What about Reagan and Gorbachev? There was a sense that the film was so overawed by its focal character that it was concerned that by engaging with those two it would fall apart.

And then there’s the end. Those of us who saw RTÉ’s Charles Haughey biopic may have been surprised, though hardly delighted, at a scene in the closing ten minutes of the Iron Lady where Jim Broadbent as Dennis makes his way … well, hey, why should I spoil it. Let’s just say that it was reminiscent of another scene in the Irish production.

Perhaps the problem was the tone. Was this magical realist, was this sombre near documentary, was it entertainment and/or comedy? Sure, a life is filled with all these and more, but somehow it never quite cohered. Perhaps that is a near inevitable outcome of attempting to come to terms with historical figures. We know them, in a way – from television, or accounts. Should an actor playing them be very similar looking and sounding, or not at all. What is the essence that is sought here? There’s no particular right answer. I’m a bit of a fan of Oliver Stones Nixon, though it too suffers from some of the same problems as the Iron Lady. I’ve also liked the Michael Sheen/Blair films and tv productions. Again those questions arise about authenticity.

But beyond that it seems to me that the film didn’t really capture just how ideological a politician she was – that she was waging a form of class warfare, in a way that didn’t just characterise her terms as PM, but expanded out to encompass how capitalism itself would readjust during the subsequent years. Could it be done in a two hour film? Perhaps, perhaps not, but one doesn’t get the sense that the effort was made to even try.

Yet for all that worth a look.

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