The Iron Lady


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Iron Lady
"Anyone over the age of 35 will find the whistle-stop, romanticised tour of Thatcher's career offers scarcely any insight, skating over most of the interesting issues."

After a promotional drive of interviews and press coverage to rival one of Maggie Thatcher's election campaigns, The Iron Lady - a 'biopic' of the former Tory PM - finally arrives in cinemas this week.

And the biggest question surrounding it is - who on earth will pay to see it? Thatcherites, not to mention her family, are aggrieved by her portrayal as a doddering and dementia-riddled dowager, while the film's attempt at a sort of revisionist rehabilitation through Alzheimer's is liable to be branded laughable by those on the left. In addition, anyone over the age of 35 will find the whistle-stop, romanticised tour of Thatcher's career offers scarcely any insight, skating over most of the interesting issues. As such, the film's chief marketplace is likely to be the United States, where Thatcher's legacy is less emotive, knowledge of her time at the top less well-known and the presence of box-office heavyweight Meryl Streep is likely to generate interest.

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A film about the tragedy of a bright and powerful woman succumbing to dementia and whose main source of comfort comes from conversations with her dead husband has dramatic (and comic) potential. However, the fact that this is not just a fictional character but a real person who is very much still alive makes it an uneasy premise that sees Shame screenwriter Abi Morgan playing fast and loose with the truth for the sake of an easy 'walk down memory lane' plot device.

There is no doubt that Streep is worthy of praise in the central role, wrapping her tongue around Thatcher's distinctive vowels with alacrity and Jim Broadbent lends charm to husband Denis, but no matter how touching their onscreen partnership - and that of their younger counterparts, Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd - anyone who remembers the Thatcher era will have difficulty in marrying the memory with this portrayal.

Away from the Denis/Maggie romance, the film clatters through Thatcher's career like a bull at a party conference, clomping from miners' strikes to the Falklands War in the blink of an eye, all the while refusing to examine any of the politics in favour of merely trying to show us that 'the girl done good'.

Even smaller details grate. I may be one of the few film critics familiar with a Grantham accent, having grown up in rural Lincolnshire, but there will be plenty of that county's cinemagoers who will find the Yorkshire brogue used in many of her hometown scenes at best amusing and at worst insulting. And the subsidiary casting is odd - while almost everyone has a soft spot for Richard E Grant, it would be tricky to find an actor who looks much less like Michael Heseltine.

By relegating the politics to second fiddle - something one imagines Thatcher would never have done - the end result plays out like a pedestrian TV movie, albeit one with some excellent performances. If it were standing for election, it would lose its deposit.

Reviewed on: 06 Jan 2012
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The Iron Lady packshot
Biopic of Margaret Thatcher.
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Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Writer: Abi Morgan

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman, Harry Lloyd, Richard E Grant

Year: 2011

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK


BIFF 2012

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