Thursday, April 12, 2012


The Wife and I watched The Iron Lady on DVD last night.

I have to admit that I came into the movie biased since I grew up during the Reagan years and knew Margaret Thatcher as his British counterpart. I tried as hard as I could to be sympathetic to the elderly woman stricken by dementia that appeared on screen, but ultimately there were too many problems with the movie and its structure that kept me at somewhat of a distance.

[1] Having seen the movie, it's obvious why Meryl Streep was nominated for and won the Oscar for best actress. It's also obvious why The Iron Lady wasn't up for best picture or best director. The movie itself is a mess.

[2] The framing device of a befuddled Thatcher who shares intimate and nostalgic, although hallucinatory, moments with her deceased husband Denis just doesn't work for me. It's absolute fiction. Trying to get into the mind of someone suffering from Alzheimer's and frame their life events through that lens feels cruel. (Although the Margaret Thatcher character of the movie would quibble with my feeling. Thinking rather than feeling! Thoughts over feelings!)

[3] The movie jumps about in time so frequently as to cause vertigo and nausea. Young adult to elderly to mid-career politician to elderly to young adult to end-of-career politician to early-career politician, with little to hold them together other than the rattled mind of someone suffering from dementia.

[4] Live-footage scenes of social unrest in London and elsewhere are intercut with close-ups of the Margaret Thatcher (as played by Streep) and Thatcher's conservative cabinet (as played by the ensemble cast). I think the intent was to show the isolation of Thatcher and her conservative cohorts from the common people, and the claustrophobia of extreme political postitions, but instead it felt to me that the filmmakers couldn't afford (due to cost and/or time) to stage filmed versions of some of those scenes.

[5] Those of us who lived through the events depicted in the movie—British riots, IRA bombings, long dole queues, the Falkland Islands war between Great Britain and Argentina—will recognize many of the references to said events. However, for the generations that followed us, especially with regard to their apparent lack of historical memory, the movie doesn't hang enough meat on the bones of those events to let the viewer know what he 0r she is necessarily watching. I think many postmoderns and Millennials may find themselves lost when confronted by the events encountered in the film.

[6] I feared what they would do with Ronald Reagan in the film. He makes a brief two- or three-second appearance dancing with Thatcher, in a scene where the various Margarets (young and old) are dancing with their counterpart Denis. It's awkward on a number of levels. It feels as though more footage was filmed and then dropped from the final cut for one reason or another. It would have been better to leave it out. This phantom Reagan, unlike many of the other characters, doesn't appear like the Reagan of my memories. Phantom Reagan is too thin, too young, too agile. Reagan should have stayed on the cutting room floor. Or, include him, but do a decent job on makeup and wardrobe and lighting; give the same attention to him that you did Streep as Thatcher.

[7] I am still confused as to where the filmmakers sympathies lie. Is this pro-Thatcher or anti-Thather or somewhere between?

Ultimately the movie's sloppiness with the framing device and difficulties with some of its facts and structure make me distrust much of what appeared on screen. This isn't the Thatcher film I was expecting, even with my biases and prejudices temporarily placed on hold.


Espana said...

I was mesmerized by Meryl Streep's performance in this movie. Awestruck. So I see why she won the Oscar, as well as why her makeup man finally won it after thirty years at her side. But the movie itself was choppy and frustrating to watch. I gather that the filmmakers wanted to give the feeling of Thatcher's decline into dementia and her deep grief at the loss of her husband. However, I don't think this film needed the extra help. Meryl Streep's performance was extraordinary enough.

troysworktable said...


Nicely stated.