The Iron Lady

Wouldn’t you think folks who were making a biopic about an important contemporary figure would like the character?  Most biographical films err on the side of hagiography.  A smaller group make their subjects overly villianous.  But never before have I seen a biographical film that treated its alleged heroine as pathetic.

Showing Thatcher as she is today — old, feeble, affected by Alzheimer’s, maybe even conversing with the memory of her dead husband — is fine as a framing device, but it goes on way too long.  We are given a glimpse of young Margaret as she enters Parliament — then very much a private club for the wellborn, the well-connected, and the male — and we get a sense of the very real barriers she had to surmount. The next we see of her, it’s 15 years later, and she’s contending for the leadership.  How did that happen?  That’s the movie I want to see.  And, while we see plenty of Thatcher’s propensity to make enemies, we see little of theformidable ability to make political alliances she must certainly have had.

Meryl Streep is amazing, though. I’m not always a fan of Ms. Streep (sometimes the “great actress” gears move a little too obviously).  But her portrayal here is so seamless that  when they intercut actual footage of Mrs. Thatcher in public situations, sometimes you don’t even notice.  Streep does her best to give her character the dignity that the screenwriters refuse to, but it’s ultimately a losing battle.

Factoid:  The movie notes that Thatcher was born in Grantham, which also happens to be the name of the fictional countess (played by Maggie Smith) in Downton Abbey.  The “Countess of Grantham” is an opinionated, power-savvy but ultimately decent old lady — the allusion to Thatcher was probably intentional.