Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

“The Iron Lady”

On Sunday, January 22nd, we went out to see “The Iron Lady,” the biopic about Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, and the longest serving PM of the 20th century. Her story is told in flashbacks, done well enough, but I did not care for the framing portion, which I thought dwelt too much on portraying the present-day Thatcher (Meryl Streep) as a pitiful and delusional old woman who carries on conversations with her hallucinatory dead husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent).

I would much rather have seen more about her early career to tell us who she was and where she came from. We get glimpses of her early life as a shopkeeper’s daughter, but then skip over her days at Oxford (and the fact that she later studied law and was called to the Bar as a barrister is never mentioned), and go straight to her initially unsuccessful but impressive campaigns for a seat in Parliament for the Conservative Party. It would perhaps have been interesting to see something of her early Parliamentary career, whatever it was that caused the party to promote her from the back benches to Undersecretary and Shadow Cabinet positions, but when next we see her, she is already a Cabinet Minister for Education, and being groomed to challenge Edward Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party. (In typical biopic fashion, events are condensed. It appears that she became party leader and Prime Minister simultaneously: in fact, she gained leadership in 1975, but not Prime Minister until 1979.)

The movie is quite unflinching about the hard times Thatcher managed Britain through, for better or worse, but does not go into much detail about the politics. Instead, we see newsreel montages of what was euphemistically reported over here as “labor unrest”, but was actually serious rioting and near-insurrection. Those Americans who swinishly squeal that the “Occupy Movement” amounts to “class warfare” should see this film to glimpse what the real thing looks like: fires, explosions, and all-in brawls between police and rioters filling entire streets. I can’t get out of my head the brutal clip of a man who was ridden down by a mounted policeman, and then galloped over by a dozen more charging behind. (Over here, when one ex-Marine is hospitalized by a rubber bullet, it is a national story and a scandal. The man who was trampled was undoubtedly killed, but I wonder if anyone, other than his immediate family, even knows his name--.)
The movie does record that things gradually got better under Thatcher’s leadership, without going into detail as to how or why. It does touch fairly extensively on the Falklands war and Thatcher’s place as a leader at the “end” of the Cold War. It also implies that she was eventually ousted as leader of her party and Prime Minister due to her increasingly controlling and harsh temperament.

Streep does a very good job of acting Mrs. Thatcher at various stages of her political career, although again, much of her time is wasted playing the maundering aged Thatcher. (The teenaged to twenty-something Margaret is played by Alexandra Roach.) Jim Broadbent has some evident fun playing the “ghost” of Dennis, who is sometimes grumpy, but mostly cheerful when she is remembering better times. They are very well supported by an extensive cast of Brit-film “usual suspects” playing the many other political figures she worked with during her long career.

Costumes and makeup were frankly fantastic, being very period appropriate. Streep’s makeups for the various ages she portrays are extremely well done to the point that it is difficult to pick out the “real” Streep’s face.

Verdict: Interesting, unsympathetic, unsatisfying.

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