The Iron Lady [PG-13] (2012)
Netflix streamingI remember when this came out, and I can't remember why we didn't see it, other than it was released in the U.S. in January and we don't go out to a lot of January movies. Of course, it's the incomparable Meryl Streep, who won the Academy Award for her role as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I also remember that it was pretty controversial when it came out -- and we could easily see why.
This isn't your straight biopic flick. It starts with an aged, retired Maggie Thatcher not having a tight grip on reality, but managing to escape her security detail and have long conversations with her dead husband. Her career, both as a young woman (ably handled by Alexandra Roach) and her 11-year reign at 10 Downing Street, is shown in flashbacks and TV news coverage. Those who are huge fans of Thatcher no doubt felt this failed to honour the woman, by focusing on her frailties as older. Those who hate Thatcher probably figure that her downfall and comeuppance wasn't hard enough and that her old age would prevent her from being punished sufficiently.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere between these two camps. Alas, it is not entirely clear what relationship the truth has with the people who made this film. Maggie died in 2013, and as far as I know, neither she nor her children ever saw the film. I suppose one could argue that it pairs well with Helen Mirren's The Queen, as movies somewhat obliquely about their main subjects.
Still, as a somewhat biopic, it is an interesting look at one of the major political leaders of the 20th century. But politics and history take a bit of a back seat. Reading through the Wikipedia entry for the film put in a lot more context about events that is obvious, at least to this American. Read the 2nd-4th paragraphs at the head of the Wikipedia article on Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) and you don't get just more -- you get a whole different image. Research chemist and barrister after Oxford? Never mentioned. And there were easily a dozen more stories they could have looked at as Prime Minister. They chose not to go there.
One can argue that too much of the 104 minutes deals with issues outside of her career. But at the same time, some of the charm of the film -- and I think it has some -- is that this outside time is used to humanize the woman. It would be too easy to make a total focus on Thatcherism, her economic plans, which would feed the fuel of a hatchet job to some extent. Roger Ebert argued that this was a life which required an opinion of its subject, that "Few people were neutral in their feelings about her, except the makers of this picture". Perhaps they erred by going too far the other way. Still, a look at the histories of many U.S. Presidents after their time in office shows a general pattern of retirement. It's as if one or two terms in the White House ruins you for doing anything else afterwards. For P.M.s, they are the head of their parties and often return to the opposition or even repeat stays at 10 Downing Street. Thatcher served her three terms and then... gone.
This film has a lot in common with the Kate Winslet/Judi Dench movie Iris, with dual casts showing the main character at two age ranges. In Iris, we're specifically dealing with Alzheimer's. Here in The Iron Lady it is listed merely as old age dementia. Interestingly enough, Jim Broadbent plays the older husband in both movies.
As with everything else, the 1982 Falklands War was glossed over. Yes, this was a film about Thatcher and not the Falklands, but it was so unprecedented at the time for Britain to pull together a hundred ship armada and steam halfway around the globe. I'd forgotten that the task force left just days after the Argentine took the Falklands -- much of my memories were more about the air war, including the long Vulcan bombing missions from England to the war zone. And despite some tough losses and very high risks, they won.
I should warn people who are having to deal with an aged loved one with dementia, will find many of the conversations between mother and daughter to have a familiar feel to them. That may or may not be a good or bad thing, so I'll provide this trigger warning.
Streep, though, is worth watching -- as is Broadbent -- whatever your feelings about the politics or the approach of the filmmakers. And how often do you get to do a review which mentions three of the great ladies of the silver screen at the tops of their game -- Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren?
Netflix can be annoying. My List items tend to disappear -- and sometimes the whole My List of saved items has disappeared, wasting all that search time. So we've already cued up the next movie we want to see, the 2010 Christopher Plummer/Ewan McGregor film Beginners by starting it, then hitting PAUSE. This should cause Netflix to offer to resume when we next sign in. We'll see next weekend...
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