Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Iron Lady

I wasn't sure what to expect with this film. I found it to be utterly compelling - the acting from Meryl Streep and the rest of the cast is of the highest order. Clearly there has been great attention to detail and a desire to be sympathetic to central character. It is not easy to deliver a biographical film so soon after the events it depicts and when the character is still living. David Cameron announced that the release of this film was too soon - I sense that his comment seeks more to placate the old guard within his party rather than offer any objective analysis of this piece of performative art.

The film flits seamlessly between three major passages in Margaret Thatcher's life:
  • War time school girl working in the family shop through to securing her first election victory in 1959;
  • Her challenge for the leadership of the party and her years in office as Prime Minister;
  • Her be-muddled state in the here and now as she wrestles with dementia.
The story dwells a lot in the third context where Margaret Thatcher passes much of her time in conversation with her dear but dead husband Dennis who is brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent. Those who are charged with Margaret's daily care ably demonstrate the challenges of living with someone afflicted in this way - particularly someone who is so strong-minded! Olivia Colman turns in a sensitive and empathetic performance as her daughter Carol.

The story clearly depicts the battles that Thatcher had to engage in simply to be heard in the male dominated world of Conservative politics. It also makes it clear that she carried this battling mentality with her throughout her lifetime. This produced the strong leadership it delivered and plenty of scope for those who so chose to dissent. The characterisations of the politicians in her successive Cabinets are more like an impressionists show that 'mere' acting. Heath, Howe and Hesseltine are all portrayed unsympathetically whilst Michael Pennington's portrayal of Michael Foot perfectly captures the malaise that afflicted the opposition during this period of British politics.

The film goes out of the way to demonstrate a Thatcher with compassion and one who felt that being in touch with the common person meant knowing the price of a pint of milk and a pack of butter. This is set over and against her resolute decision to re-take the Falkland Islands and her decision to sink the General Belgrano both of which depict a woman driven by principles and seemingly unable to respond in any other way.

This film has 'Oscar' stamped all over it - and I must say deservedly so. You cannot watch this film and remain unaffected. Which ever way you view Maggie this film will either reinforce her legendary status or confirm and condemn her as not only the 'milk-snatcher' and closer of coal mines but also the one who ordered the meaningless sinking of the Belgrano. The film nuances her eventual fall from grace as John Major's stock begins to rise, but the squabbling and in-fighting over divisions about Europe are beginning to have a very familiar ring to them as they re-emerge in today's Conservative Party.

History is always written by the victors and tells the story the way they want it to be told. As I said this film cannot fail to provoke you into some level of reaction - you must go and see it for yourself and be prepared to be challenged - you never know, you may even feel a little sympathy for the Baroness. I'll give it 8.5/10.

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