Monday, January 16, 2012

Film Review: The Iron Lady

The latest film to generate serious Oscar buzz has been The Iron Lady, featuring the indomitable and wildly talented, Meryl Streep.

The Iron Lady tells the story of one of the most polarising political figures of modern times: Margaret Thatcher, who led the United Kingdom as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Known as the Iron Lady* (ummm... obviously where the film got its title), MT led the UK through a series of frightfully painful reforms - deregulation of state assets, the deeply unpopular Falklands War, challenges to the union movement (particularly on the wharves), rejection of entry to the European Community, and the violent internal battles with the IRA. For more on just how unpopular MT really was - and for a gritty look at life in 80s UK - I recommend you also see This Is England around the same time you watch The Iron Lady. A long-held favourite of mine, I took delight in knowing the other, grass-roots side of MT's reforms.

Seriously. Just watch it.

The Iron Lady is particularly timely given the current financial malaise of the European Union today, and even the political manoeuvrings we have seen with other females either in power or seeking to gain power in recent times (here's looking at you, Julia and Hilary). MT's refusal to join the EU (the European Community at the time of her leadership) seems prescient today, and her work to deregulate the financial sector undoubtedly established the UK as the financial powerhouse and international financial centre that it is today (GFC notwithstanding). The Iron Lady certainly gives MT her dues for being a leader who stuck to her guns and pushed the UK into an era of economic stability and strength. So in that respect, I enjoyed this foray into political history.

What I did not enjoy, and actually rather loathed, was the portrayal of MT as an elderly woman beset with dementia and living a lonely, rather sad life. MT has regular conversations with her husband Denis, reminiscing over the past (which leads to occasionally clunky step-back-in-time montages) and accounting for her decisions. Denis is, however, dead. MT is portrayed as senile, sad and vulnerable in stark contrast to the energetic, strong, bright woman of her prime. I thought this was an awful, cruel way of depicting anyone. How is anyone - including film director Phyllida Lloyd - to know what is happening in her deteriorating mind?

While I think it important for MT's story to be told - she was after all an amazing woman, whether you agreed or disagreed with her politics - I'm not sure that basing this around her current weaknesses is appropriate or very tasteful. Actually, the word "exploitative" springs to mind.

Ok. Rant over. Aside from the poor taste, I found Meryl Streep's performance exhilarating. Streep transcends age in this film, and, according to those close to MT back in the day, absolutely nails every single mannerism the old bird had to a tee. It's rare that I dislike a Meryl Streep film, and she is actually the saving grace for the entire film. While I found the relationship between MT and Denis very sweet, it was marred by what I discussed above and shall not mention again!

For history and/or political boffins, or simply for anyone curious about MT, I recommend this film. Enjoy!

3.5 stars

* If you are remotely interested in politics, or just general useless trivia, you may be interested to know MT got her famous nickname from a Russian newspaper (The Red Star) following these comments in 1976:
The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet Politburo do not have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.

She certainly had a way with words.

No comments: