TV/Film/Theatre

Film Review: The Iron Lady

11 Jan 2012 at 18:40

I am probably one of the worst possible people to review this film objectively. I know some of the main characters personally, and Margaret Thatcher is my political inspiration. But I am going to give it a go anyhow.

When I first heard about this film, the initial publicity suggested it would be a complete hatchet job. I had visions of me become so irate I’d walk out of the cinema. The idea that a film which highlighted Lady Thatcher’s state of mind was not something I thought could ever be done tastefully. And how on earth could Meryl Streep ever play her?

I came out of the cinema in Tunbridge Wells half an hour ago. It was full. A sign outside said that all showings of this film had sold out today. Wow. In fifteen years of going to that cinema I have never been in a full cinema. I was tonight. And half the audience was under the age of thirty. Wow.

To be honest, part of me was really looking forward to seeing this film, but part of me was dreading it. I half expected to be in tears for most of it, and half expected it to make me angry. In fact neither happened. I felt curiously unengaged emotionally. At no time did my eyes moisten, and let me tell you, I will cry at an episide of Emmerdale. I’m not saying that many of the scenes failed to move me, but it was the performance of Jim Broadbent, playing Denis Thatcher, which rather ruined many of the moments. Broadbent didn’t play Denis Thatcher, actually. He played his Private Eye caricature. Don’t get me wrong, Broadbent is a brilliant actor – one of Britain’s best, but his performance meant that a potentially Oscar winning film doesn’t actually deserve to get nominated. Some of the scenes involving him were just unimaginable. In one he storms out of the room, when Margaret tells him she is standing for Leader of the Party, shouting: “All you ever care about is your ambition”. It simply. Did. Not. Happen. Indeed, it was he who urged her on. I could go on.

The Iron Lady is not a Biopic. Yes, it contains important episodes from her life, but it leaves out so, so much. That is maybe inevitable, but some of her greatest moments were left out. Nothing about the Cold War. Very little about the miners’ strike. Nothing about her battles with European leaders. Again, I could go on.

And so to the dementia. If one good thing can come from this film it will be to widen the understanding of dementia and alzheimers. It was dealt with sympathetically, and although it dominated the film far too much, I can see why the director used it in the way she did – as a path back to episodes from Lady Thatcher’s life. Yes, you can question the appropriateness of doing it this way, but it never made me squirm me in my seat. And I thought it would.

Everyone has praised Meryl Streep’s performance, and rightly so. It was stupendous. And yes, it could be Oscar winning. She got her voice, she got her dress, she got her movement. The only slight error was that she didn’t quite get her gait. Margaret Thatcher walked quickly, in very small steps. Matthew Parris once described her walking like a pigeon. There were moments when you actually thought you were watching Margaret Thatcher herself.

The Falklands section was the strongest, without a doubt. Her “Iron Lady” image really shone through. It didn’t happen in Tunbridge Wells, but when she says “Sink It”, I gather some audiences have cheered. Her interaction with Al Haig was vintage Thatcher.

There were lots of little inaccuracies which jarred with a political geek like me. Both Francis Pym and John Nott appeared in 1990 scenes. Nott left Parliament in 1983 and Pym left Parliament in 1987. Margaret Thatcher did not wear a hat while making speeches in the House of Commons as Education Secretary. Margaret Thatcher did not run after Airey Neave’s car when it was bombed. She wasn’t there. Again, I could go on. Some of the scenes were exaggerated. The 1990 Cabinet meeting in which Thatcher was rude to Geoffrey Howe did indeed happen. But in this scene she comes across as a demented lunatic. I know enough people who were at that meeting to know it didn’t happen like that. Perhaps the dramatic licence was needed to make a point. This was, after all a movie, not a documentary.

But this is to carp. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely. Any neutral in the audience will have left the cinema thinking better of Margaret Thatcher than when they entered it, It was a very sympathetic portrait of her, and her aims in life. It enhances an understanding of her motivations and actions, so as a devoted Thatcher supporter, I suppose I couldn’t have asked for more.

I know many Conservatives are admirers of Margaret Thatcher are nervous about seeing this film. They think that by doing so they will somehow betray the woman they admire. They shouldn’t think like that and they need have no fears. This is a film which is far from perfect, but it is not a film to be avoided.

At the end of the film, the entire audience stayed sitting and waited till the credits had finished before leaving. That doesn’t happen very often. And it spoke volumes.

Go and see it and make up your own mind. I may have written some negative things in this review, but that’s what film reviews tend to be, don’t they? But let me tell you a secret. I really liked it, despite its imperfections.

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