Meryl is spectacular as Maggie in the new biopic of Britain’s first female Prime Minister – albeit with nicer cheekbones.
The Iron Lady has a good stab at humanising one of the most important women in history. This is mainly executed through the foregrounding of present-day Thatcher: an elderly, lonely woman suffering through grief for her deceased husband and battling with dementia. It’s perhaps an obvious premise to juxtapose the frailty of old age against the formidable power of Thatcher’s former self, but it is also structurally very fitting as a film device, as her increasingly fragmented mind experiences uncontrollable flashbacks into the past. The effect is moving and real, depicting the emotional difficulties of Alzheimer’s in a way that can be related to beyond Thatcher’s story alone.
The film boasts an excellent cast, including a brilliant performance from Olivia Colman (The Office, Peep Show, etc.) as Thatcher’s daughter – complete with fake nose and posh accent – and a plethora of unexpected but pleasing cameos from the likes of Richard E. Grant and Anthony Stewart Head. Jim Broadbent is endearing as jovial husband Denis, injecting a sense of humour into Thatcher’s serious, one-woman mission.
This is a beautiful looking film full of delightful colours and contrasts, with the hair and make-up departments getting special prominence in the film’s credits (Streep had a stylist all of her own). Thatcher’s always blue outfits evoke both a sense of patriotism as well as her steely demeanour, while her juxtaposition as a single female literally swamped by a crowd of male parliamentarians is as gobsmacking as it is inspiring.
Sexism is of course touched upon, but not examined in depth as a main theme – Thatcher was a conservative after all, not a radical feminist. Her response to sexism is mostly to ignore it altogether, or simply to take it in her stride with humour and gusto. “Shall I play Mum?” she says to the US ambassador, offering him a cup of tea, shortly after her belligerent tirade asserting Britain’s refusal to budge on the Falklands, and her threat that “many men have underestimated me before.”
Though Thatcher’s vision for Britain may have been misplaced in many ways, the film expresses her sheer conviction that her “tough decisions” were right for the country, and perhaps the film‘s strongest point is its subtle critique of Britain today. It has the ageing Thatcher say to a younger admirer, “It used to be about doing something. Now it’s about being someone,” while in the opening scene she escapes her carefully guarded residence to buy a pint of milk at the corner store, and a young (black) youth rudely and impatiently pushes past her at the counter.
It is also timely, of course, to remember the violent protesting which took place under Thatcher’s government. In contrast to this year’s riots, which were variously described as individualist, purposeless acts of violence and greed, the tumult during Thatcher’s era was far more overtly political. Present-day Britain is thus depicted as a product of the vacuousness and destructiveness of the cult of individualism that plagues the West today.
Which is more than a little bit ironic, given Thatcher’s belief that “there is no such thing as society”, and that placing accountability with the individual is the key to a prosperous Britain.
My friend commented on how apolitical this film is, but I wonder.
And then there’s this.