The Iron Lady
This movie is a semi-biographical, semi-historical account of the life of Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to be elected Prime Minister of Great Britain and the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. I qualify the biography and history appellations because as an account of her life, it is far too truncated to be considered a biography and as a history, in order to keep the story consistent with the underlying theme which I will touch on later, it is a little too flexible with the chronology and details of actual events. Those things being said: this is a great movie and well worth an investment of two hours of your time.
The story opens in 2008, with Margaret as an elderly widow whose faculties are compromised and who is trying to work up the courage to dispose of her late husband Dennis’s things. While she sorts through his belongings, an imaginary Dennis periodically appears, makes comments and converses with her. The story of her life in politics is told through a series of flashbacks framed in the context of these imaginary conversations. Thatcher’s political life is presented in a relatively honest and neutral way, which is surprising since as a Conservative, she is still considered “controversial” by many British intellectuals. During the course of the story, which changes from the past to the present numerous times, she realizes that until she gets rid of Dennis’s things, he will continue to haunt her.
Merle Streep as Margaret Thatcher is brilliant. I recently re-watched The Bridges of Madison County and marveled then at her amazing range and ability to create a complex character. She does an equally marvelous job in this film, winning several well deserved awards for her performance. Streep is equally masterful at playing the enfeebled, elder Thatcher as well as the vital and powerful Prime Minister.
The underlying theme of this story is an old Hollywood mainstay: through great struggle and personal sacrifice, the hero rises from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of success, then grows arrogant and falls from grace, essentially doing himself in. Of course, the reality was much more complex and more interesting, but possibly only to history buffs. In the end, the old boys club that constitutes Britain’s power elite in all three major parties decided that Margaret, who was never really one of them, had outlived her usefulness and dumped her.
The normalcy of the situation, an elderly widow trying to readjust her life after the death of a lifetime spouse, juxtaposed with the phenomenal political history of Margaret Thatcher told in the flashbacks, makes this story interesting and compelling. Abi Morgan did a great job of making what could have been a tedious political narrative into a very affecting human story in which the politics is a secondary feature.
Although released by the Weinstein Company, this is essentially a British production and with the exception of Streep, has an all British cast. Jim Broadbent plays the elderly Dennis Thatcher, while Harry Lloyd plays the younger Dennis. Alexandra Roach plays the young Margaret. All do a great job as do the rest of the supporting cast. This is an altogether fine film and gets five stars from me.