DAVID WOODING reviews the hot new political movie
THIS fascinating movie shows Britain’s most divisive political figure in a new light – as a real human being.
If you’re a nerd, fan or critic expecting a potted history of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in power you’ll be disappointed.
This poignant film barely scratches the surface of the real-life dramas which shaped her Premiership. The Falklands War, the poll tax riots, the miners’ strike and the Brighton bomb are all a sub-plot to a rather sad but charming story about getting old.
It vividly depicts how giants of history are really just frail, ordinary people underneath. And Meryl Streep’s incredible portrayal of Mrs Thatcher achieves what the Tory icon often failed to do herself – by winning our admiration, sympathy and respect.
The Iron Lady is about so much more than the rise and fall of a legend.
It’s about the tragedy of old age, the struggle by women for equal rights and the rise to power of a grocer’s girl from Lincolnshire.
Thatcher’s amazing life is seen through the prism of an old lady struggling with dementia, mourning the loss of her husband Denis and having flashbacks to the days when she ran the country.
Tories have been swift to express their uneasiness with the subject matter while Lady Thatcher is still alive – and Labour tribalists baulk simply at the idea of a film about a woman whose legacy they detest.
But you must put the political ethics to one side and watch this as a piece of pure cinema. Forget the historical inaccuracies, too. Maggie never wore a hat in the Commons, she was not with Airey Neave in the car park when he was blown up and I’ve never before heard she barked “sink it!” when generals asked what to do about the Belgrano.
Director Phyllida Lloyd certainly knows how to use artistic licence to great dramatic effect. She once produced a quirky version of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the ENO, in which the Rhinemaidens were mini-skirted, fishnet-stockinged, spiky-heeled pole dancers and the heroine Brunhilde became a suicide bomber. I was sceptical about that – but it worked. Lloyd’s idiosyncratic style works wonders in The Iron Lady, too.
There’s also great use of music from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Bach to Bellini and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?”
Meryl Streep’s portrayal spans 40 years and the flashbacks give a balanced picture of the woman – her determination, vision, weaknesses and failings – all in nugget-sized episodes, rather than detailed analysis. The 90-minute film also takes us back six decades to Thatcher’s childhood working during wartime in her father’s grocery shop.
The movie sends out a powerful message about the tragedy of dementia – and the sadness of loneliness endured by many in old age.
It may struggle to turn Thatcher’s critics into full-blown admirers. But if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit to feeling rather more warm towards her after seeing this.
At the very least, thousands more people will see Lady Thatcher for what she really is – a human being.