I was looking forward to seeing The Iron Lady to learn about one of the UK’s most well-known and controversial Prime Ministers. I steer away from political discussions in troll-friendly fora, but was anticipating discussion of Margaret Thatcher and her portrayal among my non-nutjob politics-loving friends. However the movie was an utter disappointment.
I’ll start with the good: Meryl Streep’s performance is excellent, and the movie conveys the implacable strength she possessed (even from a young age) to succeed in the face of class and gender discrimination. Everything else was a mess.
When going to see a biopic about a political figure, I expect to see a treatment of her politics, as well as insight into her personal life. The movie squandered its running time on a delusion-heavy depiction of Thatcher’s Alzheimer’s, skimming the her political life at such a superficial level that you barely knew what was going on. Her politics are reduced to a series of pontifications that are meant to represent the critical points of her career; there is no context and no depth with which to engage, no substance even to agree or disagree with. When Thatcher famously denies the concept of society, the movie gives no narrative support or psychological explanation for her claim, no portrayal of consequences besides meaningless archival footage of protests; what she says are just words the audience has to treat at face value.
Thatcher’s personal life is treated no better: but for the briefest glimpse of her early romance with Dennis, all we get are perturbed reactions to her dementia from her daughter, back-and-forth google-eyed carping with Dennis, and holiday happy snaps of the family. It’s standard operating procedure for biopics to give a human dimension to the subject and elicit the audience’s sympathy for her; The Iron Lady spent most of its time on awkward portrayals of Thatcher in a near senile state, her heavy philosophical statements issued out-of-place and comedic in a “listen to the crazy woman” kind of way – which really doesn’t do the job.
The post-movie discussion was flat; one friend (who had read a few books on Thatcher) pointed out that the movie didn’t even explain its title. Nevertheless another friend who despised the Tories had come round to praising Thatcher as a powerful role model and a vanguard of feminism, so I guess the movie did have some impact.