Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you.
Well, not me really. Just still a vast majority of this country from what I’ve been reading.
On Friday just gone, I went to see The Iron Lady
at my local pictures. I felt quite good actually; I’ve never been to see a film on its opening day before. Go me. My companion and I were the youngest people in the cinema, and when I went to purchase the tickets an hour before the film started the usher told me he had “120 spaces left” in the cinema, implying that I really needn’t have pre-booked. But I just put this down to the early-afternoon showing on a Friday more than anything else.
My, has this film caused a furore already. I have done a fair amount of research on this – not on Margaret Thatcher’s political history, but more on the controversy the looming release of this film has caused – even before it was released. But first thing’s first. Plot spoiler warnings? Oh, I’m sure you know how it ends.
The film opens in the modern-day with “MT”, now suffering from early dementia, buying a pint of milk at her local corner shop. She plods home to continue breakfast with Denis (played wonderfully by Jim Broadbent), and complains to him about the price of the milk and inflation etc. etc. Oh, the irony right there. They carry on eating and talking away just like an old married couple would do and not one piece of evidence in sight that this frail old lady with grey hair and liver spots on her temples once lead our sceptred isle for eleven years under an unrelenting Conservative government. As she talks to Denis and he responds, padding about the house and performing their normal routines, it becomes clear that Denis is not actually there and she is in fact talking to a ghost of him; her memory.
And it is through this angle you see that Phyllida Lloyd, also the director of a Meryl Streep movie which is essentially an episode of Jeremy Kyle with a Grecian backdrop told through the music of Abba, will attempt to paint dear Mrs. Thatcher, she who abolished free school milk, as “human”.
What a task she has embarked on. You have to hand it to her; one of the most controversial figures in the history of British politics and not only are you going to do a biopic but you’re also going to show the still-very-much bitterly-stung populace how just-like-your-neighbour she is today. I take my feathered-porkpie off to her.
Memories of one of my favourite Streep vehicles came flooding back as I sat in the cinema and watched this, though ironically not for the role she played in it. I draw your attention to The Hours, a film that was released in 2002 and which I hold dear to me. Nicole Kidman whom you may remember played Virginia Woolf, and by Jove wearing prosthetics on her face did her absolutely no harm when she went to claim her little golden statuette the following February. For in The Iron Lady, the modern-day Thatcher necessitated Streep to wear prosthetics on her face and neck too, and coupled with her undisputable talent is it this I wonder which will help Streep win her third – yes, she’s only won two – Academy Award next month?
To be honest, I sincerely hope she does win it. I have read oh so much about how the bitter taste that has been left in Great Britain’s mouth since her reign is still being tasted to this day, and in my opinion since this film’s publicity, far too much has been said about Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister as opposed to people just critiquing a film and the actors in it. You might say that’s easy for me to say, but then no-one is being forced to go and see this film, no one is being coerced and equally by all rights, everyone is entitled to choose not to go and see it. I went to see it because I am huge fan of Streep even if I was playing with my Sticklebricks at the time of the miner’s strike. I have no opinion of her ethics and ideals; because of my age I just don’t. But through archive footage and subsequently the hatred many people still hold for her I can draw assumptions and conclusions… I am just neutral to it all and interested to see her portrayal from a film point-of-view.
I only have a couple of niggles about the actual film itself. Whilst the majority of the film is told in flashback with the modern-day Streep playing the 1980s Maggie, the key moments during the time of her govern which are shown, for me, didn’t seem to be granted enough screen time. And please, I don’t mean that in a sadistic way. Instead we see these events as distorted fragments of memories shown through the often uncomfortable and unrelenting lens of dementia, again in an effort to humanise her. One of the major events included in the film was the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984 and this was merely shown in a matter of a few minutes, as was her leaving number 10, the assassination of Airey Neave and the Falklands War. They were almost like highlights, not really enough time for reaction. Meryl Streep’s performance on the other hand, regardless of what you might think of the Iron lady herself was unsurpassable and frighteningly accurate. The hair, fair play, easily styled by the make-up department. Clothes; Wardrobe can help there. But the voice – the voice imitation is just extraordinary and sure to evoke memories in all of us who were there in the 80s, as she thunders through the House of Commons in her debates.
People will always say what they think about Margaret Thatcher, that I know will never change. A film starring an American actress is not for one second going to change any views or memories or opinions on whether Margaret Thatcher improved this country or damaged it further; that’s complete personal opinion based on the degree of how her govern affected you. But Streep’s portrayal of her I hope earns her a third Oscar for her acting, whether she has “humanised” her or not – again personal opinion. I know it’s bizarre to see what was once the most powerful woman in Britain reduced to crying over repeated viewings of the King & I as she confusedly yearns for Denis and mourns the loss of her son Mark whilst he was missing in the Sahara; can this really be the same woman with a history in politics such as hers? Is this what she has come to? Is it in some way even justified, depending on your field? But I ask you this, as you contemplate giving an opinion on a movie you might refuse to watch… how many films about a particular Austrian dictator have you seen?