The Iron Lady (2011)
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Now let me begin by saying, Meryl Streep embodies Margaret Thatcher. She doesn't just look like her, but she talks like her, her facial expressions are spot on. Meryl Streep becomes Margaret Thatcher. I would be shocked if she doesn't win an Oscar for this performance. The supporting cast is good too, Jim Broadbent gives an excellent performance, everyone is just great.
However aside from the top notch acting, the movie had a few flaws. The story was uninteresting at times, the flashback scenes were a bit muddled and a little confusing. The movie felt a little too safe, it tried too hard, not to be controversial. Although I don't entirely blame the film itself for that. Margaret Thatcher was such a decisive person, that whichever side the film picked, it would be criticized by a lot of people. I guess the film ultimately achieved the goal.
I also liked the movie didn't dwell too much on the politics, but on the character of Margaret Thatcher. We see the human side of The Iron Lady herself, beyond all the partisan politics and rumors, we get to see a very personal and sad side of her. The subplot focusing on Thacther's grief over her husband's death, as the older version battles with hallucinations and an unwillingness to let go of her dear Denis are heartbreaking.
Overall the movie was really well done, but just shy of greatness. Meryl Streep's performance and the supporting cast, truly elevates the film into a great biopic. Although I wished a little more time was spent on focusing on her political life, the movie successfully showed a deep and moving side of the prime minister. Which a lot of biopics fail to do. Whatever your opinions might be on Margaret Thatcher, don't fault the movie because of the opinion. And I highly respect Phyllida LLoyd, Meryl Streep, Abi Morgan and others for trying to portray such a decisive and highly controversial figure.
No, this is not a true political biopic in the usual sense. What we have here is a thin and rather dull story about an old lady's deteriorating health, punctuated along the way with flashbacks to the events that shaped her career. The fact that the old lady in question is Margaret Thatcher comes across almost as a gimmick. They could have made the film about any elderly lady, fictional or real - it would scarcely have mattered. All the important aspects of Thatcher's policies and the legacy her government left behind are dealt with in far too shallow a manner, while any insight into Thatcher as a person gets lost amidst an onrush of excessive newsreel footage. Indeed, it seems as if 25% of the film comprises of these old archival bits and pieces, which really is a case of overkill.
Since the narrative amounts to nothing more than a series of jerky flashbacks, all superficial and absurdly brief, one wonders if there is any reason to watch the film at all. Fortunately, there is one aspect of The Iron Lady that shines like a glowing beacon through the gloom and that is the marvellous performance of Meryl Streep. Streep's portrayal of the former Prime Minister is a masterclass in screen acting. The voice, the mannerisms, the physical appearance, the haughty attitude she nails it all. There are some notable names alongside her in the cast too, but generally they are in sub-par form. In some cases they're undone by poor writing, like Jim Broadbent's cartoonish "ghost of Dennis Thatcher", while others simply have too little screen time to get their teeth into the part (Richard E. Grant for example who, as Michael Heseltine, is so under-used that he simply fails to register).
Some might say the film has been made a generation too soon, since the scars of Thatcherite politics still run deep in many parts of the UK. Nonetheless, a controversial but powerful biopic could and should have resulted here if anyone associated with it had shown the courage to take a standpoint. Timidly, the film neither celebrates nor condemns Thatcher. It wimps out by presenting its entire story through the eyes of her as a mentally fragile old lady, thereby avoiding the need to "take a side". All in all, The Iron Lady is a missed opportunity. Streep's performance drags it up to the level of a watchable curiosity item but that's about the best it can offer.
The switch from now to past events and back again didn't seem to follow any logic and everything seemed to be treated in an over superficial manner. There are a few substantial historical inaccuracies with regard to the Labour Party.
Far too many newsreel clips are used from the actual time, superimposed by Mrs Thatcher's car being mobbed by angry protesters. At no point were protesters ever able to get that close to the PM's car and such incidents showing people actually pressing up against the car are entirely fictitious.
The leader of the opposition is incorrectly shown as Michael Foot during the Heath government, when he didn't become leader of the party until after Labour's defeat in 1979. The actual leader was Harold Wilson who isn't even portrayed in the film.
During Margaret Thatcher's time as the Leader of the Opposition, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, resigning in favour of James Callaghan who actually lost the election to Mrs Thatcher in 1979. Again omitted by the film.
Approximately two thirds of the film is spent on the post 2003 era (post Dennis Thatchers death) with Thatcher wandering round her flat, talking with her daughter, hallucinating about Dennis, throwing clothes out etc etc. Not only is this thoroughly depressing but it is also so frustrating as you are forced to sit through Streep doing her "I want an Oscar, I want an Oscar" sales pitch.
There were so many highly charged/globally reported moments and periods throughout her prime minister-ship which were just brushed over or completely skipped - the poll tax (which attracts about 5mins of the film), the miners strikes (less than 5 minutes), the Iranian embassy siege (no mention of at all), the Falklands war (maybe 15 minutes but deserved so much more), the policy of privatisations (minimal), and crucially the impact her leadership had on the country (nothing). And this is before raising the events that developed her into the women she was - all that is provided here is a few flashbacks to her father speaking in public. There is no real mention of her fight for the leadership, nothing on her career before politics, and very little about her developmental years (university etc).
In summary it just seems this film was out to try and get in the running for as many Oscars as it could and they didn't care if they screwed any one over to get there.
Not only is Margaret Thatchers retirement private but her declining health should not be used as an opportunity for someone to get in the running for an Oscar. Have some respect!
If they were after a film which created an emotional reaction they certainly succeeded.
The majority of the film is centred around Margaret Thatcher in her later years and how she is coping with life without her husband, Denis, and with onsetting memory loss and ill health. I was looking forward to getting more insight into her time in politics as Prime Minister. Unfortunately the focus is simply not there and felt in short supply in terms of screen time for when these were broached.
The little time that there is reference in the film to some of the major events (riots, Falklands, IRA, Brighton bombing etc) these are always associated with real footage, and these simply did not work for me. The juxtaposition between shots of Margaret & her entourage versus the real footage is so jarring as to feel almost amateurish in my opinion.
I'm not going to make any comment on the actual politics of Margaret Thatcher (everyone will have their own feelings on 'MT' as a person & as a politician), but interestingly there seemed to be a real reluctance in the film to do this either. There was no full exploration of the good v the bad in terms of Margaret's behaviour or decision-making / the real political successes v the real political failures etc. I suspect there was a lot of 'smoothing over' of some of the events when the hard-hitting facts would have made for a far more interesting watch.
Sadly, I only have to compare The Iron Lady to The Ides of March to see how much of a disappointment The Iron Lady is and what a wasted opportunity to make an exceptional film about a well-known Brit. Whether Meryl Streep's performance will land her an Oscar, we'll wait and see, but to me there seems something a bit incongruous with someone winning a best actor/actress award off the back of such a poor film overall. Sorry Meryl - loved you in It's Complicated!
It is also highly unethical to delve into the mental condition of a living person who tried and tries to keep her private life and health issues really private. There are reasons why we call it "private" and doctor-patient confidentiality "confidential". It seems like those principles are beyond the intellectual (moral, or both) capacity of the Hollywood suits behind this movie.
Thatcher became a household name, not only in the UK, but throughout the world, and yet, all her political achievements are presented in a telegraphic style, sometimes just as segments of a news bulletin read by some news presenter. She was called 'the iron lady' by the Soviet propaganda machine in an attempt to discredit her image, her strong positions and alliance with Reagan formed the core of the entire Western policy toward the Soviet union resulting in winning the Cold War, and yet, the authors of this movie choose to completely disregard this side of her story, as if this was some annoying mosquito, just spoiling the bizarre shadenfreude fun they are having with the senile, 80-year old lady.
Thatcher herself is adamant during one of her fights with her husband that he always knew she puts her works first and yet, the film tries to focus on her private life issues, again, by means of sheer guesswork. Why? The only explanation is ideological spin, since the creators try to present the old and rather frail former prime minister as sad, doubting her past, and in some scenes she is even insecure not only as an old, senile lady, wandering around her digs, but also during her prime time, as a head of government. Priceless screening time is wasted while none of the issues she had to deal with is presented with any depth whatsoever.
Occasionally, the film is reduced to a vaudeville, as in the scene where she is about to enter her No.10 residence for the first time as a PM or employs one-dimensional clichés, such as the symbolism of Thatcher talking about 'taking the wheel in her own hands' and then pushing the car to the right, while her daughter is in the driving seat. What is the purpose of this demented symbolism? No matter how unwashed the masses are, they can still figure that this film is about a confident, self-made woman who takes matters in her own hands and pushes her country to the right. Why an obvious metaphor, pointing at the obvious?
The only true merit, that can be attributed to this unhinged and rather prolonged exercise in shadenfreude, is that it represents the true spirit of her public life in general a strong-willed, principled person, a woman with SPINE, successfully fighting against an intellectually and morally constipated establishment, unhinged left-wing militants and impotent political opposition. Well, the political opposition turned out impotent because it was Margaret Thatcher who single-handedly rendered it that way. There are some truly powerful moments, however, when the young Margaret was listening to her father's speech, clearly, his words having authoritative, formative, inspirational influence on what she was about to become, or when she masterfully fights off the attacks of both her political opponents and spineless colleagues.
Obviously, Meryl Streep is a very good actress, and she is spot on Thatcher's voice and mannerisms, but this is just good professionalism, nothing extraordinary, way too many actors are capable of doing that these days. Does she deserve another Oscar for this performance? If there is nothing better this year on the movie front in her category, hell yes.
The only reason this picture should be seen is as a weird example of how a biopic (of a person of Margaret Thatcher's caliber) should not be made,it's a half-baked distraction of what her real biography should look like .