The Iron Lady (2011)

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
Image via Wikipedia

This is a masterful performance by Meryl Streep in a film I found incredibly uncomfortable to watch at times. This film doesn’t pull punches. It will not turn anybody into a Tory and if anything there were reminders for me of exactly why her politics and mine are so far apart but it is the use of her hallucinating as a narrative device and talking to her dead husband, Dennis, which made me uncomfortable. Flashbacks are a traditional method of creating a narrative in films such as this but she is a woman who is still alive and the method used to create them is supposition and detracts from the excellent biopic. For once I agree with Cameron (words I never thought I would utter) it is too soon.

As a biopic this is a fine piece of work. The scenes of a young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) fighting against sexism and class prejudice are well played as are the scenes of her and young Dennis’s (Harry Lloyd) blossoming romance. There are moments in the Streep scenes where the resemblance to Thatcher is incredible. Some of the shots of her amongst a sea of men or sitting alone remind us just what she achieved by getting into power but how isolated she was against the old boys network. When she first arrives in parliament we are shown her going to the ladies restroom.It is deserted except for an iron and ironing board.

We are reminded through a mix of archive footage and recreated scenes of just what her time in power did although the long term effects of privatisation and other policies aren’t mentioned as there is a gap in the film between her leaving office and her hallucinating. The similarities between the early eighties and today are hammered home with riots, strikes and recession. The scenes where she orders the sinking of the Belgrano are chilling. This is no humanising film. However these scenes are based on fact. We know from contemporary accounts and memoirs that these things happened. The hallucinating is fantasy and that is where I feel the film falls down. This is a woman who is still alive. Who still attends social functions. I can see that the flashback technique was useful and maybe in 30 years it wouldn’t seem so odd. In fact as a device I think flashback is great. It works well in many films and there is no reason why it couldn’t have worked here.

Jim broadbent (Dennis) and Olivia Colman (Carol) give excellent supporting performances which highlight the difficulties of living with someone as single minded as Thatcher. When Carol is trying to help her aged mother but she asks for Mark repeatedly it is so sad.

If you want a depiction of ageing and dementia or Alzheimer’s watch Iris. That is amazing. If you want to see excellent acting from some of the finest actors in the world then this is brilliant but beware the hallucination scenes. If they’d stuck to the facts then this would have been a great film.


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