Looking Back in Sorrow or Anger?

This is my review of The Iron Lady [DVD].

Meryl Streep lives up to expectations with her strikingly accurate recreation of Margaret Thatcher, at least as she has appeared in the media. It is interesting to be reminded of the violence of the 1980s – the Poll Tax riots, the IRA hunger strikers and bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, the bitter Miners' Strike, the tensions and mishaps of the Falklands War offset by the exaggerated euphoria over the eventual victory. However, all this is covered so quickly that I am not sure what those too young to remember will make of it.

The best yet most controversial aspect of this film is the portrayal of the former Prime Minister as an old lady suffering from dementia, often imagining that her husband Denis is still alive, a dramatic ploy for remembering her past life and revealing her personality through imaginary exchanges with him, ably although perhaps too sympathetically portrayed by Jim Broadbent.

These scenes of dementia about a person still living left me feeling a little uneasy. Perhaps they are based on a recent book by Carol Thatcher, but I understand the family has not given their approval for the film. Maybe the "Anyone for Denis?" stage show paved the way for this kind of intrusion into their lives. I noticed that Mark Thatcher has a remarkably low profile in the story, possibly with avoidance of lawsuits in mind.

There is perhaps too much focus on Thatcher as an elderly lady, giving too little time to develop past events. The process by which she becomes Prime Minister is rushed through, perhaps so as not to bore the audience. Some important aspects of her premiership are neglected. I would have liked more about her famous lack of humour, more on her relationship with Ronald Reagan and her dealings with EU partners – "We want our money back" – possibly a bit, not too much, about monetary policy. Her cabinet ministers come across mainly as grey ciphers, and perhaps more of them could have been clearly differentiated for the benefit of those who remember them.

Thatcher is shown as descending into megalomania, largely responsible for her downfall. Yet, the film does succeed in arousing some sympathy for a woman who had to overcome the snobbish prejudice of the old style Tory party to become the first female British head of government.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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