Writing this film review is a minefield for so many reasons. The most obvious of all being the subject matter, Margaret Thatcher. Hated by so many people, it has always been a kind of mystery to a foreigner like me why and how exactly Britain’s first ever female Prime Minister gained this larger than life reputation. I know that this is a difficult topic to write about, not only because of the politics involved. Granted, I might not be the most informed person to have seen this movie, but I think this has been quite an advantage. Instead of being tainted of my parents’ opinion of what was undoubtedly a very difficult time to be alive in Britain I can watch the movie with an open mind.
Cinematographically, The Iron Lady is an excellent movie. Margaret Thatcher’s life holds all the key ingredients to make up an interesting and gripping story. With the aid of regular flashbacks, the viewer follows Thatcher’s life and career in politics from the very beginning to the bitter end. A grocer’s daughter that first gets elected leader of the Conservative party and then Prime Minister of Britain against all odds – Hollywood couldn’t have written it any better. After all, it’s the controversial characters that make the best entertainment.
Thatcher’s life is being shown to us by several flashbacks. The framing device is that of a tragic old lady suffering from dementia – Thatcher at her lowest point in life. Although this kind of framing does make sense, I would have liked to see bigger chunks of the film devoted to her life in parliament. Due to the nature of the flashbacks the film sometimes comes off as bitty, and lacks the complete immersion of the viewer into this beautifully crafted story. Instead, we are constantly taken back to present-day Thatcher, merely a shadow of herself and being treated like a child by those around her.
Meryl Streep’s performance of Margaret Thatcher is indeed what makes this film so unique. Her acting is absolutely impeccable; from her mannerisms and looks down to the utmost detail like the position of her feet when sitting, or the ever-present slight pout. Streep’s co-actors are just as talented, although none of them are terribly central to the story. Even Thatcher’s husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), who has from the very beginning of her career stood beside her, plays only a secondary role compared to the icon herself. The actors’ costumes and makeup are almost scarily accurate – again, it is obvious that a lot of thought went into the crafting of Streep as Thatcher. It is these little details that make the film so compelling to watch. From the very beginning it is clear just how much work has gone into making this movie so aesthetically accurate, and the level of attention to detail is simply admirable.
For being about one of the most polarised political figures in Britain, The Iron Lady has little to do with politics. I have seen a lot of people claim that it somehow glorifies Thatcher’s persona, and while I do not deem myself an expert in these matters, I am bound to disagree. Far from being a feel-good movie, The Iron Lady is a gripping and often tragic tale. Thatcher’s own politics and decisions are merely depicted as factual and stand on their own for the viewer to decide what to make of them. Streep’s role certainly isn’t that of a jolly happy-go-lucky feminist who defeated the men at their own game. It is simply that of a power-driven woman who strongly believed that she did what she thought best.
The Iron Lady is an immensely rewarding film to watch – compelling, genuinely interesting and thought provoking it stands above all that Hollywood has recently churned out in a desperate attempt at making millions.
Antonia Landi for Trisickle.