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Film Review: The Iron Lady

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No. No. No.

Thatcher the ideologue and Thatcher the woman are indivisible; this is where the interest and the achievement lies; yet this is a film about old age and grabs from a half forgotten life; it’s a film that feels around for a coherent line of action and incident; a film about the pressure of a career on a woman’s husband and kids. It’s almost as if the movie itself has dementia – it doesn’t know what it’s doing or what’s it for. Worse, it hardly dramatises a thing you’d wish to know. If Gandhi had spent a third of its running time with the elderly Indian leader chatting before his assassination, it may have felt like this.

Discussion of the film has, to date, inevitably centred on Meryl Streep’s performance in the title role. No actress has given Thatcher such dimensions on screen; perhaps no one could. When the film lists toward melodrama, more often than is tolerable, in scenes like the confused Maggie begging the apparition of the dead Dennis not to leave her, Streep pulls it back; she gives it heft. She is, figuratively, as well as literally, the Thatcher of the piece: a towering presence that masks the narrative’s weaknesses. Lloyd and Morgan are as lucky in their casting as the Prime Minister was in her enemies.

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Carleton Young in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and there can be little doubt that Thatcher’s legend, largely promulgated by the woman herself, would masticate celluloid. Instead the film breaks a sweat in its attempt to demystify her, apparently unaware that the woman and the myth are the same thing. Post-War politics was seldom more embodied in a single individual than during Thatcher’s tenure yet difficult periods, flashpoints that would require a cultural historian to take a position and flesh out the supporting players, are visited all too briefly or omitted.

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Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd

Country: UK/France

Year: 2011

Running Time: 105 mins


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