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Film Review: The Iron Lady

10th January 2012

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The Iron LadyThere is a point in The Iron Lady when the young Margaret Thatcher tells her soon to be husband Dennis that she can’t marry him if he’s expecting to be married to a woman confined to look after his children and doing the washing up for all eternity, ‘I can’t die washing a teacup Dennis, I just can’t.’

Happily for Dennis, this isn’t what he wants for her, and answers that it is her very guile and defiance of convention that made him want to marry her in the first place. So hurrah for feminism! Burnt that bra, didn’t you Maggie! Well, not quite.

A persistent problem with the film is that it tries to portray Thatcher as a feminist icon. Yes she faced opposition from a barrage of bespectacled sneering Conservative men throughout her life, and yes, she rose to the challenge and defied them all, but this does not a feminist make.

Thatcher did nothing to empower women, either on a policy level or to herald a higher level of female MPs. What she did do was play on her gender – after verbally flattening the American Secretary of State about the issue of the Falkland Islands, she asks him how he takes his tea; ‘Shall I be mother?’

In terms of a biopic of the longest reigning Prime Minister of the twentieth century, this attempt falls a little short, superficially gliding through Thatcher’s early years; she seemingly went straight from Oxford to a seat in Parliament for example, and large parts of her premiership are glossed over.

Where the film does succeed, and perhaps this was the extremely talented Abi Morgan’s intention with the screenplay, is in the creation of a beautifully truthful and incredibly moving picture of old age, and the loneliness, isolation and invisibility that often comes with it. Meryl Streep is wonderful, as always, and I would bet good money on her walking away with yet another Oscar for her role, and Jim Broadbent, as the long suffering Dennis, is gloriously twinkly and charming.

The supporting cast is excellent as well – notably Richard E. Grant, simmering with treachery as Michael Heseltine - and it’s atmospherically shot, the spirit of the 80s particularly evoked in The Not Sensibles’ dabble in irony with their punk anthem ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher.’

The real achievement is that the untouchable Iron Lady becomes accessible and humanised; large parts of the film could be about any elderly person reflecting on their life, a life, however extraordinary is ultimately reduced to the ordinary and often, depressing, in old age.

I found it ever so slightly distasteful to release such a film, showing Thatcher in the throes of senile dementia, while she remains living, as well as her fraught relationship with her daughter Carol (last seen in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, one can imagine what that did for mother-daughter relations.)

Nevertheless, the film touches on some very important themes, and one leaves with a sense of Thatcher’s personal strength, for better or worse, and her desire to make an impact. ‘One’s life must matter’, she says, and divisive as she was, as reduced by old age as she is, one could never accuse her of not making an impact.

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