Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady (U.K.) directed by Phyllida Lloyd, 105 minutes
Nominated for two Oscars:
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep
Best Makeup

Oh, I don't want to feel sympathetic towards Margaret Thatcher! I have been resisting seeing this film. She is no Cold War hero to me although I was intrigued by how eerily similar Meryl Streep appears in her role as Thatcher when she was at the top of her game as Prime Minister of England in the 70s and 80s. But as my friend CE kindly said to me as the film ended seeing my discomfort, "It's okay to like the film Michelle ..."  Can I like the film but dislike the subject of the film?

I have read reviews that found the movie sexist, focusing too much on Thatcher's role as a mother and a wife. I think this is an unfair assessment. Every female who has lived these roles (demanding career, mother, wife) faces these issues to greater or lesser degrees. If that offends you because Thatcher was so highly placed I don't think that you are not thinking realistically about the situation that she was in as the first female British Prime Minister.

When the film starts we see a fairly realistic portrayal of Thatcher struggling with some sort of senile dementia where she imagines her now deceased husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) to be still in her life and she relives the high (and low) points of her career and life. She is also gently being prodded by her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) into ridding herself of those possessions that she still wants to retain years after Denis' death. Streep, encased in very life-like make-up to depict Thatcher in the latter part of her life, is utterly convincing and Jim Broadbent is wonderful as husband Denis - playful, charming, intelligent, in the thankless role as the Prime Minister's husband as he is usually depicted as hen-pecked, almost invisible.

Thatcher's early years (the younger version played earnestly by Alexandra Roach) taps so easily into my Achilles' Heel of working class roots! A lower middle class lass who worked in her father's grocery store in Grantham in Lincolnshire and admired the Conservative politics of her alderman/mayor father, we follow her through her efforts to pierce the posh, stuffy, public school heart of the Tory party when she seeks a seat in the House of Commons in the early 1950s.

This is no easy feat for the "Grocer's daughter", which becomes both an epithet used against her by her enemies and a personal badge of honour for her, who is both female and not upper crust although Oxford educated and whip smart despite her squeaky voice and uncertain airs. Frustrated by what she perceives as a lack of courage on the part of fellow Conservatives in the Edward Heath cabinet, she decides to run for the leadership of the party and, to the amazement of all, wins. But first she must undergo an image change and some voice coaching .. her voice is too high, her hats are too fussy, that twin strand of pearls denotes privilege.

There is a great deal of time devoted to the tumultuous events of her tenure artfully incorporating real footage with imagined scenarios: the Brixton riots (1981); the Falkland Island War (1982); the miners' strike (1984-85); the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton where a Conservative Party conference was being held and where she and her husband were almost killed (1984) ad the cozy relationship she enjoyed with American President Ronald Reagan particularly after the fall of the Berlin Wall (the late 1980s).

Eventually Thatcher is ousted by Cabinet members and forced to resign perhaps as they were weary of her imperious manner and her resistance to more progressive initiatives such as European Integration. 

By the film's end we see that Thatcher has reconciled herself to certain unhappy realities - Denis' clothes are packed away and he, too, soulfully recedes into the ether padding away shoeless and wearing his trench coat. She seems reconciled to the injustice of being forced to resign and is even seen washing her teacup, something that she vowed that she would never do as a young bride.  

What did this last gesture mean that, in the end, despite her best efforts, she remained a woman, forced to deal with women's concerns?

Harry Lloyd and Alexandra Roach as the young Denis and Maggie


Christine said...

Can I like the film but dislike the subject of the film?

Yes. ;)

Cheryl said...

Ah, well, even the rich and powerful have to do things they don't want to do . . .