Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Iron Lady - Movie Review

I saw the movie 'The Iron Lady' yesterday. I am glad that I did because I have waited to see this from the very first moment I heard that it was in production.

I have enormous respect for Margaret Thatcher (MT) and have read her memoirs. My only regret is that I have not met her...yet!

Although the movie is well made it isn't about MTs political history and achievements.
It is about old age, dementia and memories.

If you are looking for political intrigue, you will be disappointed.
But, if personal anguish is your idea of a great night at the movies then you will absolutely love this film.

I hit my twenties during the 80s.  It was a great time of opportunity for people if they were willing to get up off their backsides and do something.  We had the Yuppie, Loadsamoney, and a big bounce back from a crippling recession.  Monopolies were gone and opportunity was everywhere.  The clothes were...weird, and so were some of the haircuts but if you lived through it...you loved it.  It was a time of Wall Street, Dealers, and mobile phones that looked like house bricks.
 
I also remember the strikes, the bags of rubbish on the streets because of dustmen strikes, the unions striking, the economy, the high unemployment, the IRA bombings, the riots.  In fact, if you substitute Al Quaeda for IRA, it's not much different today.
 
If you had no idea of those times, and/or no experience of those things happening you would have left the cinema wondering WHY there were people throwing bags of rubbish onto the street, why people were banging their fists on MTs car and why (or maybe even who) blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton during a Conservative party conference.
 
None of these events are explained.  They are memory flashbacks in the movie, flashbacks by a woman who is remembering events in her past.  She knows why they happened so the director/ writer thinks we do too and no explanation is needed.
 
The Falklands war is treated as a catalyst of power in MTs tenure as Prime Minister.  Her decision and her order "Sink it!", when referring to the Belgrano, is a very exciting moment, played with great tension though, I am sure, the actual event took a lot more decisive thought than in the movie.  The rationale, regarding the game of chess being played at sea with battleships as the chess pieces around the Falklands was not fully explained and the decision to sink the Belgrano could be seen in the movie as a gratuitous one.  It most definitely was not.
 
The Director, Phillida Law (Mamma Mia), has described much of the film as a work of imagination.  I would think 'lack' of imagination more the point.
 
This movie focuses on an elderly lady, wandering around her police protected, bullet proofed windowed, apartment in Chester Square, Belgravia, looking for her long dead husband Denis.  He pops up in a pink turban, or walking like Charlie Chaplin.  He is a ghost, or rather a figment of MTs imagination.  He is used as a foil for MT to look back at a life full of decisions, strategies and challenges.  It's fun but after a while, annoying. 
 
Also no mention is made of his business acumen.  Denis Thatcher, already a millionaire when he met and married MT, financed his wife's training as a barrister and a home in Chelsea; he also bought a large house in Lamberhurst, Kent in 1965. His firm employed 200 people by 1957, but he sold it to Castrol on 26 August 1965 after suffering a mild nervous breakdown in 1964. He received a seat on Castrol's parent board, which he maintained when Burmah Oil took it over in 1966. He retired from Burmah in June 1975, four months after his wife won the Conservative Party leadership election.In addition to being a director of Burmah, he was chairman of the Atlas Preservative Co, vice-chairman of Attwoods plc from 1983 to January 1994, a director of Quinton Hazell plc from 1968 to 1998 and a consultant to Amec plc and CSX Corp. He was also a non-executive director of Halfords in the mid-1980s.  He calls himself a successful businessman in the movie but how many people know what he achieved?  In the movie he is demoted to nothing more than the adult equivalent of a childs imaginary friend.
 
I can only com parethe performance by Leonardo de Caprio in Aviator, a movie about Howard Hughes, with the performance of Meryl Streep.  De Caprio gives an outstanding performance and anyone like me with knowledge of Hughes can appreciate the portrayal by de Caprio and also be aware of the preparation it took to achieve the performance of a lifetime.  To such an extent it is like watching secret home movie footage of Hughes.
 
Upon leaving the cinema one could only talk about how brilliant Hughes was, how weird he was, what a strange and damaged man he was, how achieved so much whilst suffering from OCD.
 
Here, with the Iron Lady, one comes away from the cinema talking of one thing only: Meryl Streeps performance.  As amazing and spellbinding as it is, the performance is what is being talked about in bars and restaurants post movie and in the press.
 
But, what of the woman herself, the subject matter, Baroness Thatcher?
 
If you have only heard of MT at school you would not know of the power struggles, the political machinations, the feminist issues, the decisions, the speeches....
....Surprisingly no mention of "The Lady Is Not For Turning" or "The Mummy Returns"....
...because there is no substance or explanation of the key and iconic moments that were the make or break of her as Prime Minister.
 
This is a great movie to see if you know about MT and/or lived through the 80s.
If you know nothing about MT you will learn nothing about her from this movie apart from she became an MP, she became PM, she became old and forgetful.

Meryl Streep gives a performance that will undoubtedly lead to an oscar.

But, again, what of the subject matter herself? 
For who she is, for who she was, for what she achieved...Margaret Thatcher deserves more than this.  Much, much more.
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