Iron Lady

I made my way through Iron Lady, the Margaret Thatcher biopic with Meryl Streep. While I agree Streep should be commended for her portrayal of Thatcher, I can’t say I’d want to sit through the film again. It’s an interesting take in some respects, but I had to make myself resume watching as I found the foggy look back at Thatcher’s life through the fog of dementia got old after awhile.

I liked the opening scenes with an old, retired Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher slipping out to get some milk at a mom and pop store, and I stayed with the film in the beginning as it cut back and forth between the time of Thatcher’s later years when memories of her past and hallucinations of her jovial dead husband come up unbidden (yet in more or less chronological order) and the start of her career.  Yet as the movie progressed and the film never headed for deeper water, I got bored.

I learned that Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter and that she had idolized her father who espoused staunch “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” conservatism. She got accepted at Oxford and we don’t see much of her days there. It seems Oxford didn’t get her to change or deepen her thinking one iota. Evidently, university wasn’t an important part of her life. I must remind myself that since the story is seen through the eyes of someone with dementia the narrator isn’t reliable. (Not a technique I’d use for a biopic after seeing this.) Soon the film jumps to Maggie’s catching the eye of Denis Thatcher at a political meeting and they’re soon married. Denis starts out as a progressive man who is attracted to Margaret’s strength, but as the movie continues he’s sort of a cheerleader with few ideas of substance to offer his political wife.

After some speech lessons and media coaching Margaret soon manages to get elected as the first female Prime Minister of the U.K. With overhead shots of a sole light blue suited woman amongst a herd of dark suited men and one white pair of white pumps surrounded by a dozen brown Oxfords, Iron Lady offers us strong images accentuating the gender imbalance Thatcher faced. I do applaud her for making her way into this Old Boy’s Club, yet I felt it was too bad that apparently she didn’t bother to bring in even one other woman.

The scenes when Thatcher had to make hard decisions regarding the Falkland Islands and economic policy present us with a real iron lady, but Thatcher also seems to be a woman with one idea and no friends whatsoever. She does grieve over an aide who died when the IRA planted a car bomb, but there was no dimension to that friendship. There isn’t much dimension to any of the relationships or ideology. From this I suppose Thatcher was as flat and simple as Reagan, her pal.

I appreciate the demands of the film which required that Streep play an ambitious politician who has to fight for her place at the table and a faltering, once  powerful woman, aware that her mind’s playing tricks. In the end that wasn’t enough. I grew tired of the shifting from the present to the past.

I know what dementia’s like and it’s a losing battle, thus not one I’d choose for a main character. I also found myself judging her children and the Brits for not providing adequate care for their aging Prime Minister. Surely, Thatcher wasn’t the first P.M. to decline this way. Why would she be left on her own so much? Why would those who care for her have that amateurish “Oh, she’s losing it” surprise that people who aren’t experts in dementia have (which the patient’s aware of and hates)?

In the end I wish they’d have sacrificed some of the cool images and given us more depth of character.