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August 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Iron Lady (2011)

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Movie review by Greg Goodsell

When we first see the elderly and feeble Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) in THE IRON LADY, she is doddering over the price of milk in a Pakistani bodega with a clerk who barely speaks English. The painful irony is all too clear. Thatcher, the British Prime Minister who earned the sobriquet “The Iron Lady” by the then Soviet Union, was at one time called Maggie Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher” by her critics. Slashing civic programs and expounding fearlessly on her “sink or swim” philosophy, resurrected an ailing Great Britain to the level of an international economic powerhouse. Her fearless climb to power is documented in this film, giving the viewer a thrilling slice of 20th century history.

The daughter of a small businessman, she was bolstered by a father who told her to strive for excellence. Her frustration over the limited roles available to women is demonstrated eloquently in a scene where she is accepted into Oxford. The young Thatcher (Alexandra Roach) excitedly shares her acceptance letter with her father, to which her housewife mother demurs – “My hands are wet.” Marrying the love of her life Denis (Jim Broadbent) and birthing twins, Thatcher becomes the head of the Education Department, where she is frequently shot down by her male colleagues for having an opinion contrary to theirs, in addition to her eccentric taste in hats. Consulting with “spin doctors” about her image, they tell her to lose the wacky chapeaus but she steadfastly to her double string of pearls given to her by her husband upon the birth of the twins. “These are non-negotiable!”

Elected Prime Minister in 1978, Thatcher is an unabashed fan of Ronald Reagan-era America, stating that while life in England is hidebound by its class system and history, “America is founded on philosophy.” This doesn't mean that the U.S. And Thatcher saw eye-to-eye on everything. Her decision to reclaim the Falklands after it was seized by Argentina  was met with reproach by America, who suggested a diplomatic end to the standoff. Thatcher was well-versed in her U.S. History when she rebuked such advice, saying that the U.S. Didn't negotiate peace with Japan after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Her economic policies benefited Britain in the long run, with the city of London currently being the home of many several millionaires. All things must come to end, and she resigned in 1990 when she famously went head-to-head with members of her own Conservative party.

It is here that THE IRON LADY becomes almost too much to bear for some members of the viewing audience. After suffering a series of strokes, Thatcher was beset with dementia, seeing hallucinations of her late husband who she lost to cancer in 1992. While the film maintains a chronological account of Thatcher's life and times, she is frequently seen as a woman haunted by once-real ghosts. Her scenes with her various assistants (Streep won yet another richly deserved Academy Award for her performance) and her adult daughter as she struggles to retain lucidity is profoundly heart breaking, making the film almost an ordeal for everyone who has lost a friend or family member to Alzheimer's and dementia.

Thatcher's legacy is a mixed one. While Great Britain remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the emergence of the “chav” subculture – unemployed young adults who live off the dole, unapologetic for their trashy, non-contributing lifestyle  who live in graffiti-stained council flats – is currently the preeminent image England displays to the world today.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combination offers a behind-the-scenes featurette, the bonus features, “Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher, “Battle in the House of Commons,” Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits” and “Denis: The Man Behind the Woman.”

1 comment:

  1. Streep’s performance is so true and so uncannily accurate, so full and so complete in its understanding, that she is fascinating every second she is onscreen. As for the film itself, the structure is a bit off and the screenplay doesn’t really give us much else other than a history lesson, but a good history lesson at that. Nice review Greg.