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This dramatisation of the events leading up to Margaret Thatcher's fall
from power in November 1990, including a few jumps back in time to 1975
when she beat Ted Heath to the Tory leadership, benefits from a good
and controlled central performance by Lindsay Duncan, plus entertaining
caricatures of other leading politicians of the time (John Sessions as
Geoffrey Howe, Roy Marsden as Norman Tebbit, Oliver Cotton as Michael
Heseltine, Roger Allam as John Wakeham, Robert Hardy as Willie
Whitelaw, Michael Maloney as John Major, etc., plus Rosemary Leach as
The Queen), but is ultimately too detached to present real interest or
engagement with its subject.
In newspaper reviews the drama was reviled for presenting Mrs Thatcher in too sympathetic a light, but I think even here it fails - she shuts out her children, only thinks of herself - especially in one staggering speech showing her hungry for power and 'damn the party' - and has an awkward relationship with her long-suffering husband Denis (Ian MacDiarmid). This is not the portrayal of a woman who we can recognise or empathise with. In fact she is presented as a self-made monster who believes her own publicity and can't face up to reality.
Whether all this bears any resemblance to the truth is a moot point. 'Margaret' is worth watching, but does not pass as entertainment, or as anything other than a snapshot of its time, relevant only when events presented remain in living memory.
I've read Margaret Thatcher's autobiography, and have always been
especially taken with her own description of her last days as Prime
Minister, as her own Conservative Party organized a coup to oust her,
and I was curious to see how this fictionalized account would square
with her personal account, The truth is that, essentially, the stories
are pretty close. As might be expected, this docudrama isn't as
sympathetic to Thatcher as her own autobiography was, but neither leave
any doubt about the level of intrigue that existed within the Party and
that led to her demise. Although much could be said about the story,
the history books can essentially fill in the dreary political facts.
What I can say about the movie is that no one comes off in a
particularly positive light. Of Thatcher's rivals, Michael Heseltine
(who's the arch- enemy in Thatcher's own work) probably comes off best
as a guy who sincerely believes the Party is heading for disaster
unless he leads it. John Major seems shifty and conniving, and most of
the others seem simply weak. It's that very weakness, the movie
suggests, that played a major role in Thatcher's downfall. Dominated by
her for years, resentment among the senior Tories grew, and the
back-benchers became disdainful of her lack of interest in and
attention to them. So out of touch has Thatcher become that the movie
suggests that she at one point entertained the possibility of handing
over the leadership of the Party to someone else, while she herself
stayed on as Prime Minister - which would have been impossible in the
British system. Speaking as a Canadian, I found one very brief scene
(which consisted of only a few words) also demonstrating how out of
touch she had become. During an audience with the Queen, she refers to
having met Brian Mulroney (a former Canadian Prime Minister) at an
international gathering and then begins to explain to the Queen who he
is. The Queen (who is also Queen of Canada) says coldly "I know who
Brian Mulroney is."
This is a movie that will be of interest to anyone with an interest in British politics (or, really, politics in general.) It uses flashbacks to Thatcher's earlier career quite effectively, offers an interesting look at Thatcher's personal life (she comes across as rather cold and distant, particularly with her daughter Carol) and presents what is probably a very accurate reflection on the fact that loyalty in politics generally takes second place to one's own best interests. I will say that star Lindsay Duncan really didn't seem to capture Thatcher at first, but definitely grew into the role as the movie progressed. All in all, well done!
People who live in North America were intrigued by the rise of Margaret
Thatcher. She seemed to break all the rules for success in politics:
she was rigid, not pliable; she never listened, only told people what
was going to happen. This approach led to three successive majority
governments, but led also to resentment and finally open revolt in the
ranks of her party. She was forced to resign because her fellow Tories
wanted her out. At one point, late in the film, she asks if she could
turn over leadership of the party to someone more popular with the
rank-and-file, so she could get on with the job of running the country.
That is how much she had lost touch with day-to-day reality.
Lindsay Duncan does a splendid job playing Thatcher. She has the hectoring tone down pat, but relieves it with more intimate, warmer moments. The cabinet looks like a series of gargoyles on the facade of a cathedral--the actor playing Rifkind looks like a toucan in profile, while the rest look either thuggish or pitiable. One of them even bursts into tears when confronted by Thatcher, to her irritation. This TV docudrama can be recommended enthusiastically to all non-British viewers.
Margaret Thatcher, the UK's longest serving post World War II Prime
Minister, a major player on the world stage during that time and a
figure who still is a source of controversy more than thirty years
after being elected. In 1990 her tenure as Prime Minister came to an
end when her own party replaced her. The 2009 BBC film Margaret tells
the story of her last days in power, how it came about and how her
greatest strengths brought her down.
The film's greatest strength is Lindsay Duncan as Thatcher. Her performance is nothing short of excellent as she plays Thatcher as a politician at the height of power who fails to realize until it is too late that her day has gone. Duncan doesn't capture Thatcher's famous voice but she nevertheless gives an excellent performance throughout be it the tough woman fighting to get elected in the film's flashbacks or in the scenes towards the end of the film when she becomes painfully aware of what everyone around her has known throughout that her time has come and gone. Duncan is the life and soul of the film and you never forget it for a moment.
Backing Duncan is a fine supporting cast. They range from Ian McDiarmid as Denis Thatcher, James Fox as Charles Powell, Rupert Vansittart as Peter Morrison, Margaret as Cranley Onslow, Michael Cochrane as Alan Clark, John Sessions as Geoffrey Howe and Michael Maloney as future Prime Minister John Major. Together they form the figures around Thatcher both trying to save and bring to an end to her.
The film's production values are as of high a quality as the cast. Of particular note is the cinematography of David Odd which gives the film a strong sense of reality by giving the viewer the sense of being a fly on the wall at times into a world of power and shadows, where Thatcher looks constantly into mirrors in an attempt to see what is going on in her own mind and it makes the viewer feel like an intruder almost into this world. David Roger's sets also go a long way to giving the film that sense of realism as well from the days of Thatcher's campaign to the House of Commons to 10 Downing Street itself. The result is a film that oddly gives the sense, despite being fiction, of a glimpse into the behind the scenes world of British politics in November 1990.
Last but not least of course is the script by Richard Cottan. At the beginning of the film, there is a disclaimer that reads: "Whilst this film is based on real public events, most of the dialogue and many of the scenes are the invention of the author." That is certainly the case, let there be no doubt. What Cottan does then is make the film into a portrait of Thatcher, "the iron lady", and how what made her the powerful politician she was brought her down. Thatcher is portrayed as someone who strove to change the Conservative Party of the mid to late 1970s, someone who wasn't taken seriously by those she sought to replace and yet falling victim to the very same thing fifteen years later. The most incredible thing is how she doesn't seem to realize it, clings to the belief until it brings her down. As a result, Cottan creates not a docudrama but a drama that uses an historical event and Thatcher in particular to tell a story as old as politics itself: the powerful leader who becomes so separated from reality it destroys them.
Margaret is an excellent film detailing the final days of Margaret Thatcher's time as UK Prime Minister. From the excellent performance of Lindsay Duncan as Thatcher through the supporting cast, production values and the script from writer Richard Cottan, the film is a fine piece of drama. It also stands as a warning to those who grasp at power as it teaches the oldest lesson of all: power doesn't last forever.
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