The Iron Lady (2011) – Film Review
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant
by Nate Wisniewski
The Iron Lady was always bound to be a controversial film. So far, opinion has been divided, and not even about the content of the film. Many are voting with their feet against it. The country seems split, with the south much more open to the idea than the north. Yorkshire, in particular, has one of the lowest audience attendances in the country. Despite the figures, there was quite a good turn out at The National Media Museum. Although half of the audience had got things confused and thought it was some kind of Thatcher lynching. I could be wrong here, but I swear I saw one couple leave dejectedly with pitchforks in their hands.
For those that stayed, the enjoyment of the next hour and a half would be inescapably bound to their view of our old prime minister. Writer Abi Morgan’s take on The Iron Lady is to focus on how Thatcher’s decisions affect her, rather than the country at large. It is a move that, in terms of box office success and Meryl Streep’s Oscar chances, is a good one. Of course, there is reference to her wider political ramifications, but the emphasis is by far and away on the personal life of Thatcher and her own demise.
“Not a film about Britain, it is a film about a woman”
The result is an ‘it’s lonely at the top’ story, in which Thatcher’s increasing ambition and refusal to compromise alienates her from her family, her friends, and even her own party. But what else would we expect from a writer whose other recent release, Shame, is a tale of sexual addiction and the isolation that financial success can bring? Unlike Shame, however, this film fails to grab the audience on anywhere near as strong a level. This is, no doubt, due to the protagonist being Margaret Thatcher.
Certainly, there’s more in the film for Thatcherites than Thatcher haters. In adopting the personal approach, the film’s lows come from her loss of power and descent into old age. This might anger those who believe there is enough political sadness in her tale to draw upon. But this is not a film about Britain. It is a film about a woman. And quite rightly in dramatic terms, the more tender moments are drawn from the loss of what she values most. But it doesn’t make for particularly comfortable watching.
There are little nods in there for those anti-Thatcherites. In particular, a montage in which she is moulded into a powerful speaker and political persona. It’s almost a parody of The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, Bertold Brecht’s masterpiece about the rise of a certain Adolf Hitler. Of course, all involved will deny this (surely no one would have the audacity to actually claim a comparison between Hitler and Thatcher – that certainly would require a Thatcherite strength of will). But the similarity is there for all to see. But these moments are few and far between, and too subtle to infect the overall tone of the film.
“Not a film that will change your mind”
Meryl Streep is excellent as Thatcher, uncannily adopting her public persona and bringing a fragility to her private life that feels very much in character with the public persona we see. There are also some excellent cameo appearances, adding a kind of celebrity ‘Where’s Wally?’ for those that incline that way.
In the end, The Iron Lady is very much as controversial as Abi Morgan’s other recent work, Shame. And although you don’t see quite as many reproductive organs in The Iron Lady, you still come out of the film with plenty to discuss. Despite this, it’s not a film that will change your mind about anything. If you positively hate Thatcher, then you should probably stay away, for your own sake. If you like her, why haven’t you gone already? And if, like me, you just don’t really care, this film won’t alter that for so long.