In the same way I went to see “The Downfall” (2004) by Oliver Hirschbiegel praying I wouldn’t get to find out Hitler was a pleasant chap after all in a film criticised for making one of the world history’s most evil characters ever seem like a sensitive, caring human being, I went to see “The Iron Lady” by Phyllida Lloyd hoping I would hate Margaret Thatcher even more than I did before. And I must say I have felt completely let down in my quest for historic truth by this mawkish biopic that hardly cares for political positions and mainly focuses on the sad effects of old age. Chameleon-like Meryll Streep and her amazing make-up, supernatural hairdo and false teeth make a very convincing grosse légume turned into vegetable, but is the figure of Thatcher the best pick to describe the sore issues of nostalgia, bereavement, boredom, and dementia? Anyone human being will feel a twinge of sadness when they see a great mind or a misguided fool in such distress, but how is this relevant to the portrayal of the Iron Lady?
As the film awkwardly puts the jigsaw pieces back together, we learn how Thatcher worked her way up the political scene, from the shopkeepers’ daughter and Oxford graduate (young Margaret is played by dentally-defective Alexandra Roach), to the leader of the Conservative Party and finally to Downing Street for over 11 years. The movie describes the treacherous path the unwavering woman had to wade herself through in a harsh male chauvinist’s world, and it’s all the more disappointing to be reminded of her unstoppable efforts to become accepted as a woman politician when you think of how unsympathetic Thatcher was towards female emancipation across all layers of society. Phyllida Lloyd’s very biased portrait of the leader shows her as a brave if not reckless idealist with unshakeable principles, a strong and compassionate military leader, and a quick-witted woman of action for whom it’s supposedly what you do that counts, not who you are. When criticism erupts it is only mild, and vaguely questions Thatcher’s stubbornness and her inability to listen to others. But overall it’s clearly an ode to a nationalist Messiah who wanted to put the “Great” back into “Great Britain” but whose vocabulary certainly didn’t include words such as compromise or solidarity.
Perhaps the director would have done a better job including some singalong tunes from the “King and I” musical, apparently one of Thatcher’s favourites, given the success she had with “Mamma Mia” (2008), her previous blockbuster. But fortunately some much appreciated (and typically British) comic relief is provided by Jim Broadbent as Thatcher’s late husband. He surfaces in silly acts throughout the film while Margaret works hard on fixing her death denial issues.
What with so many emotional triggers imposed on the viewer, you can only feel sorry for the declining old bat, but is this not totally beside the point?