How they turned gold into tin
Imagine, if you will, after watching The Iron Lady, the biopic of Margaret Thatcher’s life, Margaret is asked her opinion on said film and its portrayal of what is her memorable and significant life story. Mrs Thatcher eyes the interviewer, and with a stare that would stop a politician at fifty paces, she replies, ‘I don’t like the tone of it.’ Be assured, there will be a lot of reviewers and film-goers backing her on that one.
As this movie releases in late December, the first thing you will hear is that Meryl Streep is a shoe-in to win the Oscar. And, I would say she should win the Oscar, not just for her performance but in that she manages, to elevate a very average movie to watchable and entertaining. She is startlingly brilliant in this role and it is a pleasure to watch her personify a woman so recognisable from our recent history. Only once did I catch a Meryl gesture; the rest was pure Margaret.
The Iron Lady is the story of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), probably one of the most famous and controversial political leaders of our time. She was England’s first female Prime Minister, serving from 1979 until 1990. An ambitious and influential leader, she was loved and hated during office. Having lived in London in the early eighties, I can attest to the criticism and strong emotion her “Thatcherite” policies evoked, whilst she transformed England from a country in recession to a prosperous economy again. Her hard line stance on unions, her decisions to go to war in the Falklands, and her overseeing of the introduction of the divisive Poll Tax are all touched upon in the movie. These tough political decisions of her Prime Ministership are intermingled with the personal moments she shared with her Father, her children and her husband, Denis (played with comical charm by Jim Broadbent).
The Thatcher story is a fascinating one on many levels, from her early childhood as the daughter of a green grocer in a politically minded family, to her determined struggle against the political ‘Boy’s Club’, to the family she neglected in order to realise her goals. The peek through the window into the eleven years of her Prime Ministership, where she literally had a hand in changing the world, leaves us in admiration of her stoicism.
In all that huge life though, lays the first problem with the movie. There is a lot of story to tell, in one hundred and five minutes. Abi Morgan, penned the screenplay, and worked closely with Director, Phyllida Lloyd. My sense of it is that they took off on the wrong path from the very beginning.
First, in wanting to cover everything they have created a film that felt, annoyingly, like we were jumping around in a time machine and a broken one at that—Doctor Who, we need your sonic screwdriver. We are hurled back and forth through five minute snapshots of key life events. Then, just as things get interesting, we are whisked back to present day with old pensioner Margaret Thatcher, who suffers dementia and converses with her long dead husband, Denis.
Another issue and, the ruination of the story for me, was the choice to frame the story around Margaret Thatcher’s senile character, struggling to clear her long-dead husband’s clothes from the house. This Margaret’s behaviour raises character flaws which don’t ring true. In one scene, we have old Margaret giving her Doctor a run for his money, fitting perfectly with the strong, younger Margaret character. In the next, we have Margaret dithering over her husband’s clothes or over concerned about the price of milk. You could argue that this was the dementia influence but I would say anyone who faced the world fearlessly would also face her own health issues the same way.
Then, after the film has delivered us ninety minutes of a woman who will not be stopped, who knows her own mind, who will go to war for her principles, she then utters one of the weakest lines a female character can, as her husband’s ghost walks out the door. She cries out, ‘Denis come back’.
After I saw this film, I felt a margin of anger towards its makers, in that they chose to tell the story using a senile Margaret’s reflections. I kept thinking why Aaron Sorkin (Acadamy Award Screenplay writer of Social Network) couldn’t have penned this one.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘What Britain needs is an iron lady.’ What this inspirational story needed, with its talented leads, strong supporting actors, and remarkable makeup artists, was an iron strong script. What they gave us was hollow tin.
Release Dates: Australia December 26, USA December 30, UK January 6. Other Countries