Posted September 2, 2011 by Alex Moss Editor in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Iron Lady, The


Hide the milk and prepare for riots because The Iron Lady is here, but will the politics overshadow the personality.

Hide the milk and prepare for riots because The Iron
Lady is here, but will the politics overshadow the personality.

As despised
political figures go Margaret Thatcher was always going to be a
difficult sell as a mainstream movie.
But that was never going to stop someone trying, after all they made Downfall and that was about Hitler! As with all biopics though it always
comes down to which moments your going to focus on, the more specific the
better or you run the risk of falling into a montage of life ‘highlights’
rather than truly telling a story.

For the most part
writer Abbey Morgan and director Phyllida Lloyd appear to have dodged
that potential bullet, but they do trip up trying to over sentimentalise a
public figure who few will have sympathy for. And when they run out of ideas towards the end the
inevitable medley of career and life moments seems to be the go to
solution.

The film opens
with an aging Thatcher (Meryl Streep)
trying to buy a pint of milk, yes there is no irony lost here, and being
concerned by the price. Returning
to her home we gradually begin to realise that the former Prime Minister is in
the throws of dementia as she jokes with her late husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent). While her aids and daughter Carol (Olivia Coleman) fuss over her she
reminisces about her life, how she got into politics, her rise to power,
becoming the first female Prime Minister and everything that followed.

At first this
structure seems to work well.
Painting Thatcher not as the monster many would have us believe, but as
a woman striving for more. Her ambitions
may be her downfall, they come back to haunt her later in life as she fails to
be voted as head of the Conservative Party, but early on they are
admirable. Furthermore, the
interactions with Dennis allow for a great deal of subtext prior to certain
events being illustrated. Lines
such as “It used to be about trying to do something, now it’s about trying to
be someone” allow for a wry smile to appear at what will inevitably
follow.

Indeed for much
of the film historical accuracy seems to go out of the window in favour of
sincere character dissection.
Morgan and Lloyd letting us enter the thought process of Thatcher as we
begin to see what drives her.
Early on she wants assurances from Dennis that she will not be left
holding the baby, but down the line she will “do anything for them”.

It is in the
second half that the film begins to unravel. At first trying to justify Thatcher’s hardnosed outlook by
portraying her underdog gender politics, something you feel the real Thatcher would
dismiss. Indeed her yearning for
Dennis implies that she is lost without ‘the man’ in her life.

And then come the
montages of stock footage. The final
third of the film descends into a highlight, or low-light in many cases, Thatcher’s
political wins and losses. Gone
are the fun back and forths between her and Dennis and instead we are bombarded
with familiar images that seem to be an express way to get us back to where we
started, with Thatcher sitting in her home a shell of her former glory. Some have stated it mocks her dementia,
but if anything it is when dealing with this aspect you feel most affectionate
to her. Only when the news reels role
do you begin to dislike her, something that feels ironic given the effort to
paint her as a person rather than a poster-girl for the politically
despised.

It is when
dealing with the human Thatcher that the film thrives. In particular the people she surrounds
herself with and allows her guard down.
Coleman and Broadbent are stunning in their respective roles as
Thatcher’s daughter and husband.
Coleman, under a ton of prosthetics is unrecognisable but her performance
is wonderfully frustrated and paternal.
Broadbent meanwhile is on typically jovial form. His Dennis is, as the press would have
us believe, a wonderfully comic portrayal often bordering on Python-esque in
the way he skips around. Yet you
get a genuine sense of the affection and chemistry he shared with his
all-powerful wife. But the truth
is The Iron Lady would be nothing without the Oscar Winning Streep. An icon in her own right it is staggering
that you never see Streep in her Thatcher. The mannerisms, speech pattern are all spot on, but this is
more than a mere impression. Her
body language highlights the desire to stand tall but the constant fidgeting
allows you to witness a side to Thatcher that, in all possibility, only exists
in Streep’s performance. It is
through her you find the ability to care and loath The Iron Lady.

Like its subject
matter The Iron Lady is deeply flawed but aims high. That it nearly achieves the goals it sets out is testament
to the ambition of Lloyd and Morgan, but more than anything demonstrates the
sheer screen prowess of one of cinema’s greatest acting craftswomen in the
shape of Streep.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com