It seemed inevitable that at some point someone would attempt to make a film exploring the life of one of the 20th Centuries most memorable and controversial characters, it’s just a shame that this particular film is far too sugary and one sided. For although Mrs Thatcher vacated Number Ten some 22 years ago, this film still seems too soon, and too eager to portray Mrs Thatcher in nothing but a good light. Feelings about ‘that woman’ (as my mother refers to her) still remain raw and increasingly bitter. In fact the further north you travel in the UK, feelings about this film will grow ever more resentful. For the truth is, for many ‘that Woman’ looms over British culture like a real life voldermort, someone whose name is met with an expression of disdain and repulsion. I was born in the midst of the Thatcher Government, and for the first 6 years of my life The Iron Lady ran the country in her own distinct manner. And although I was very young, I still have memories of my parents cursing at the television, and placards in the main street in protest of the abhorrent Poll Tax. This film in some respects feels like the repackaging of a monster as a martyr, an attempt I’m sure in some opinions as trying to humanise the devil. It’s almost nigh on impossible not to take your own personal opinions about her into the cinema with you, and even more unlikely you’ll swallow some of the tripe on the screen.
So The Iron Lady is a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, first female Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland, and the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century. Starting with her life as she is now (a strong willed 80-something old battle axe battling with dementia and grief) the film through flashbacks tells her story from childhood through to her reign in power. All the while the modern day Maggie is trying to keep a grip of her own sanity, constantly plagued by hallucinations of her deceased husband Dennis, she lives in fear of losing her marbles altogether. We see her difficult rise through The Party and how her gender hindered her yet inspired her to push on. We see her deliberations over the Falklands War, are reminded of the turbulent times with the IRA, and her eventual downfall in politics.
The biggest bug bear with this film is that it is stingingly manipulative and shockingly one sided, it attempts to paint Mrs Thatcher as an unflinching warrior, going with her instinct and knowing what’s best, whilst contrasting her work with her home life, where she is pictured as a loving mother and a doting wife. Far too little is made of Thatcherism and it impact on Britain. Ask anyone where I come from what Margaret Thatcher is remembered for and they will likely reply taxes, privatisation, greed, the Falklands War and milk snatching (she infamously ended the free milk for school children programme, which only helped solidify her already vilified reputation). Too much is made of her as a vulnerable dithering old lady, attempting to wring every drop of sympathy from us by exploiting her dementia. And just on that note, making a film about someone and their declining health whilst they are still alive is in my opinion, in screamingly bad taste. It would appear thought that those in charge of Thatcher’s estate clearly gave the green light for this ‘legacy’ carving exercise in spin and schmaltz in an attempt to lament this significant figure and attempt to secure some over blown state funeral for when the time comes. A significant character in history she may be, but not necessarily one to be celebrated.
Hats off to Meryl Streep though, who turns in a blindingly good performance that makes this a film worth watching. She nails the voice and the look, and although the plot attempts to hoodwink us into siding with Maggie, Meryl is game to put her all into capturing The Iron Ladies strong willed belligerence. Equal mention must go to Olivia Coleman, whose portrayal of Carol Thatcher (Margaret’s daughter, best known in the UK as a reality tv star) is charmingly spot on.
It’s a film I’d recommend everyone to see, but be warned before viewing, this bias and potentially offensive story does its utmost to spin Margaret Thatcher as hero, as someone who stood by their ethics and never backed down. Far too little is made of the consequences of her rulings, and the backlash against her is quickly swept under the carpet. It did nothing to change my opinion on the woman, and hopefully it will not fool others into believing she was anything less than a heartless harridan. An interesting film that borders on Thatcher loving propaganda or at least a retouching of history. It’s clear hope is to do to for Maggie what Dame Helen Mirren did for The Queen. Peppered with factual events, but polluted by touchy feely nonsense to make a very cold character seem not only palatable, but iconic. Careful you don’t fall for such trickery…