The Iron Lady (UK-France, 2011)

Streep's triumph

Nothing was going to get to me to see this film because Thatcher is one of the few people I’ve truly hated in my life (I still do). However, it dawned on me that as I’m teaching a topic called ‘Thatcher’s Britain’ (Mona Lisa, 1986, and Riff Raff, 1991) I needed to go. My reluctance was reinforced by reports that the film didn’t deal with her politics: a striking omission. It turned out I needn’t have seen it, the film tells us nothing about ‘her’ Britain, but I was bowled over…

…by Meryl Streep, who out-Streeps herself with a performance for which I do not have the superlatives. That didn’t surprise me, but I do think this is an extremely good film despite not dealing with the politics in any detail. Anyone who is not familiar with the evils of Thatcher’s Britain will not get much of an inkling of how divisive she was; although we seemed to heading for a similarly fractured society under Cameron’s coalition. The film is actually about dementia and it’s logical to choose a person who was one of the most powerful in the world for dramatic effect. Using a fairly standard biopic device of looking back, the film picks out key moments from her life (and history) but it’s focus, unlike many such films, is on the present and not the past.

The early years Thatcher, superbly played by Alexandra Roach, did enlighten me in its portrayal of the hideous patriarchy of the Tory party. Clearly, to get beyond that prejudice required an enormous degree of determination and if she ever had the ability to consider others, then it was probably squeezed out of her at this time.

Then there’s Streep who (almost) makes human in inhumane. She has been admired as a fine actor for many years. Much used to made of her ability with accents (Out of Africa‘s Danish for example) but that didn’t prepare me for her ability to portray the fiend of the ’80s. Whether it’s the politician about to topple Heath, or the eightysomething fragile old woman, Streep embodies Thatcher perfectly.

This is looking like another box office triumph for the UK Film Council backed film; the quango stupidly abolished by the Tories on entering office.



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