In a similar way to the 2004 German film Downfall, a story about Adolf Hitler’s final days in Berlin at the end of World War II, The Iron Lady endeavours to humanise ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she too is confined to her own psychological bunker.
Set in the present, the film opens with Baroness Thatcher looking lost, frail and confused. Witnessing her struggle with dementia we’re privy to the Iron Lady’s memories as she tries to come to terms with the death of her husband Dennis, played somewhat maniacally by Jim Broadbent. In many ways the film is a love story about an elderly woman with dementia trying to cope with the loss of her partner but ultimately having to accept his passing. But to leave it there is like making a film about Imelda Marcus and her love for shoes.
Abi Morgan’s (Brick Lane) script and director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia) use flashbacks to highlight the important decisions in Thatcher’s life. Unfortunately amid the ill judged humour, the well documented major political events are given the shallowest of coverage and are ultimately wrapped in the all encompassing caveat of ‘she it did it all for the right reasons’.
In Downfall, the atrocities devised and carried through by Hitler were never revised, ignored or even questioned; the film only focussed on a mad man losing his grip on power. The Iron Lady chose simplify and excuse the past as the ‘tough medicine’ necessary to fix a broken country; a party line still prevalent today.
In fact the film gave very little time or context to the misery and pain inflicted during the miners’ strikes or the militarisation of the British police force, once seen as public servants but who now continue to serve as a brutal arm of the state. Her old gun slinging partner Ronald Reagan and their short-term economic sell-out through de-regulation was barely mentioned; although at least 99% of us are now paying that price.
There were many historic events washed over or ignored but the decision for the sinking of Argentinean cruiser The General Belgrano and the loss of 368 lives was replayed and justified. While tears were shed for British soldiers fighting in the Falklands, none were forthcoming for the war at home.
Meryl Streep added some quality to a film that often played like a made for telly biopic. Her portrayal of Thatcher as the ageing Baroness and younger PM was accomplished, showing the infamous public figure at her strongest and also at her most vulnerable. Notably, Anthony Head’s performance as cabinet minister Geoffrey Howe was also excellent.
The film could have been an opportunity to inform us of the drive and goals of Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister, from grocer’s daughter to the architect of a Thatcherism, a neo-liberal ideology leading to rampant individualism, wholesale privatisation and unimpeded capitalism, but failed to deliver there, too.
Instead the film focussed on Thatcher the woman, an outsider who had survived and flourished in the male dominated sphere of British politics. Her political ambitions had a negative effect on her family life and she is seen trying to come to terms with her decisions. Thatcher the grandmother appears to be close to her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) but Mark Thatcher is oddly estranged from his mother, maybe because of his own failed coup.
At best, The Iron Lady has nothing of any worth to say and at worst, it’s a piece of revisionist fiction.
Thatcherite denial isn’t a crime, but it would be criminal to watch propagandist and puerile nonsense like The Iron Lady without understanding the full, and horrific context – and consequences – of the leading lady’s actions.
The Iron Lady, Cert 12A
On general release