As one who is old enough to experience life in the UK under Margaret Thatcher as well as her legacy in the following decades, I went to see The Iron Lady with the anticipation that it would shed some light on the woman so dominant in my formative years (after my Mother, Grandmother and female school teachers). I had heard charges that this film was too sympathetic to a woman who was perceived as an uncaring, insensitive monster by many, especially in Scotland, where the majority did not vote her into power. My views on her politics are as complex as this country’s system of government and I tried to leave those at the ticket booth before watching this film.
It opens with a frail, widowed Mrs Thatcher buying a pint of milk and paper at a grocer’s shop, harking back to her days on the other side of the counter at her father’s small business. Working in retrospect, Phyllida Lloyd walks us through Margaret’s life via jarring memories in a fug of senile disorientation. I would have preferred that these flashbacks were few and far between as they were over-dramatic, oversimplified and seemed like Channel 5 were handed the directorial baton and told to churn out a limp, caricature-filled afternoon TV movie. Even Meryl Streep’s portrayal fell short during these snippets, failing to show the intensity of the Iron Lady’s stare and the cutting force of her authoritarian bearing. Streep is more powerful and moving as the rust-encrusted, elderly stateswoman suffering hallucinations- involving spritely and touching dialogue with Jim Broadbent as a mischievous Dennis Thatcher. There was no schadenfreude on my part in watching the demise of this once powerful woman. I would not wish this illness on anyone or their families. However, it was fascinating to see her being treated like a petulant child by her carers as well as being locked in by her Special Branch armed guards while she still occasionally demonstrated the stubborn fervour and stern philosophy that had propelled her into power.
This was not a fitting biopic for such an imposing presence in 20th Century world politics. It was bereft of the power, spirit and determination that Margaret Thatcher showed throughout her years in power. It failed to adequately show the heights of her megalomania as well as the extent that the country, then her party, poured scorn on her style of leadership. At the end of the film, I felt I learned nothing that I had not experienced myself at the time of her governance. The best sections of the film showed the human mortality of a proud woman,demonstrating that no matter how powerful we are, we cannot lead ourselves away from our own decline. My opinion of Thatcher the politician had not changed nor had my sympathies towards her personality. If the film had as much power as the eponymous Lady, then maybe this would have had more impact on me.