Movie Review: The Iron Lady
Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become… habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.
Remember Margaret Thatcher? I remember her well. She was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 80’s. For those who remember the 80’s, who could forget her? The Iron Lady is the movie where Meryl Streep brings Margaret to life. The big question is how good does Streep do it?
The movie opens in the present as Margaret in her 80’s goes out to buy milk and has breakfast with her husband. Problem is when her keepers see her, she’s the only one there. Margaret now has dementia and has people to look after her. She can’t tell the difference between her illusions and her reality. Even her daughter, who she has a strained relationship with, tells her that her son is in South Africa, she’s not the Prime Minister and her husband’s dead.
Margaret tries to adjust to her reality. She knows she has to accept the fact of her husband’s death. It has its difficulties. As she’s autographing books, she signs one Margaret Roberts. This flashes back to the days she’s the grocer’s daughter, working at her father’s grocery store while the town’s girls were having fun. Her father gave political speeches and encouraged Margaret to develop a strong will for herself. Further flashbacks move to when she falls in love with successful businessman Denis Thatcher and when she runs for her first election in 1950. She loses but Denis strongly believes in her.
In 1959 Margaret Thatcher, now married and a mother, is finally elected an MP in parliament. She has the difficulty of being the only female MP in parliament as she is known as the ‘lady of the house’. Nevertheless she does find support in a man, Airey Neive. He’s able to coach out her voice and her image. He even believes she could be the Prime Minister. Margaret doubts it and believes there will never be a woman Prime Minister as long as she’s alive. His death in a car bomb implanted by the IRA changed that. She became leader of the Conservative Party and won the national election in 1979. She didn’t just live to see Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She achieved it.
Becoming Prime Minister in 1979 was not an easy thing. She had to deal with Britain’s rising unemployment, the Brixton riots, lengthy labor strikes like the seven month-long coal miners strike of 1984, and even an IRA bomb explosion during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference where she and her husband were almost killed. She also faced her biggest challenge when she declared war to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She was determined to win it back and she succeeded. Things improved for Thatcher as Britain had a better economy, she developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan and she emerged as a leading world figure.
By 1990, her reputation as the Iron Lady was starting to wear thin. She went from being seen as an active World leader to being more of a political tyrant who verbally assaults her own colleagues. Geoffrey Howe resigned after being humiliated by her in a Cabinet meeting. Michael Heseltine challenges her for the leadership of the Conservative Party and Cabinet forces her to resign as Prime Minister. She still carries the bitterness twenty years later.
Eventually Margaret does learn to let go as she packs up Denis’ belongings and tells him it’s time to go. Denis does leave and we see her washing a teacup, something she promised Denis she would never do.
The weakness of this movie is that it looks like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a biographical drama or a fictional story amongst historical figures. No question there are a lot of times when it showcases the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Margaret Thatcher but it often feels like the story is more about her ordeal with dementia instead of the legacy she created. Many times it doesn’t make much sense as I came hoping for a biographical story of Margaret but instead felt like I was watching a movie about Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband. Even now I’m still confused what the main point of the movie was.
There is no doubt the movie did an excellent job in bringing back the legacy of one of the most legendary political heads of state of modern times. History should continue to remember Margaret Thatcher and the younger generations should be familiar with her. Margaret Thatcher sent a strong message of what a female head of state can do. She showed a woman head of state is as capable of being a world leader as a male head of state can be. She proved a woman head of state can have a long powerful term. She proved a woman head of state can transform a country. She also proved that a woman head of state is just as capable of declaring a war as a male head of state. There have been female heads of state before but never before was there a female head of state of a major country. Today the biggest country with a female head of state is Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. American media have strongly hinted there may be a president Sarah Palin in the future. Who knows?
Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers another winning acting performance. She never disappoints and always delivers. However this is a milestone for her and ranks amongst one of the best performances she’s ever done. Jim Broadbent was also excellent as her husband. The script however was the difficult part as I stated earlier as it doesn’t make it clear what this movie is exactly supposed to be. In all honestly, it’s another average film where Meryl’s acting saves the day. Director Phylidda Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan appear like they need more experience in their fields. They both know how to do well in their trade on the theatre but not necessarily too well on film. Even Phylidda’s own Mamma Mia from years ago doesn’t do her justice on film.
If there was one positive point of the script, it’s that it was able to capture Thatcher’s drive and beliefs. Lines like: “(Politics) used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” or even how she talked of the Americans and their drive showed how she was one who wanted to achieve things for reasons beyond her own personal interest. The biggest strength of the script is that the essence of Margaret’s political muscle was very present.
The reception of the film has been mixed. I talked about how the film brought back the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Some may agree with me while some may feel the movie hails her more than it should vilify her. We often forget that there are many people who were unhappy with her way of politics back during her administration and still harbor negative attitudes to her to this day. Even Margaret’s children, Mark and Carol, have said about the movie “It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.” Films about politicians are always going to start lots of talk.
The Iron Lady isn’t exactly as strong portrayal of Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. It took Streep’s performance as Margaret to save the film from being a major disappointment. No doubt Streep will win the Oscar this year.