The Iron Lady

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some violent images including war and terrorism
Diversity Issues: A theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: January 13, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0059XTUVI

A performance by Meryl Streep of endless intelligence, skill, and sensitivity cannot keep this impressionistic portrait of Baroness Margaret Thatcher from being exactly the sort of sentimental nonsense she spent her career trying to avoid. “People don’t think anymore; they feel,” she says in this movie, with infinite disdain. “It used to be about trying to do something,” she says in an earlier scene. “Now it is about trying to be someone.” This film recognizes her point of view but then comes down on the side of feelings and of being rather than doing.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the most influential and polarizing figures of the last half-century. She was the first woman to serve as the British Prime Minister and she held the position for an extraordinary and transformational decade that included highly controversial privatization initiatives, major reductions in the power of unions, and a brief war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Based on this film, however, one would conclude that she is a dotty old lady who was once fierce, peremptory, and ambitious, but now cannot quite remember what it was all about.  It is always a relief to be spared the usual biopic structure of highlighted anecdotes as a shorthand explanation for the person’s motives and fears, followed by assorted personal and professional high and low points, all conveniently assembled to create the illusion that lives can be neatly dissected.  But, as with “J. Edgar” a few months ago, this film goes too far in the other direction, leaving us with an unreliable, subjective approach.  A movie about a real life should not pretend to be definitive, but it should be illuminating.

Streep is truly magnificent, creating a vibrant character of passion and strength and her scenes with Jim Broadbent as Thatcher’s supportive husband are touching.  But without some sense of what made her so passionate and how she formed her ideas about economics and foreign policy it’s just a less glamorous version of “My Fair Lady.”  A young woman is literally groomed for success, her hair shellacked into an intimidatingly immobile helmet, her voice lowered, her accent raised.  Without a “why,” though, it’s just a trip to the ball.  It is a shame that a film produced and directed by women takes such a diminished view of Thatcher, reducing the scope of any doubts or regrets she might have at the end of her life to house and home and overlooking the fierce engagement with ideas that was truly her core.

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The Real Story: Margaret Thatcher and ‘The Iron Lady’

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 8:00 am

Meryl Streep stars as Margaret Thatcher in this week’s release, “The Iron Lady.”  Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister of the UK, was one of the foremost political figures of the 20th century.  While her close ally Ronald Reagan brought a new era of conservatism to the United States, Thatcher did the same in the UK with still-controversial fundamental changes that made her a polarizing figure.

Streep and director Phyllida Lloyd have insisted in interviews that “The Iron Lady” is not a biopic. It departs from the usual format for stories of real-life historical and culture figures with selected personal events that are portrayed as triggers or inspiration for the character’s good and bad choices followed by re-enactment of well-known turning points: the character amazing people with his/her ability and drive, personal and professional set-backs and triumphs. Similar to “J. Edgar,” released just a few months before, it is a more impressionistic exploration of what Thatcher’s thoughts might be as she looks back, the moments of pride and her regrets, based on part on A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl by her daughter Carol Thatcher. Streep said in an interview:

“It’s a very subjective look at a very big life, but it is a look back from the waning edge of power. It’s a look back at power from the point of view of powerlessness. It is a very selective look at certain challenges that an old lady remembers based on the challenges that she faces in her daily life.”

Thatcher was born Margaret Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1925, the daughter of a grocer who was involved in local politics. She studied chemistry at Oxford and then became a barrister (lawyer). She was first elected to office in 1959. Her early political positions supported lower taxes, capital punishment, decriminalization of homosexuality, and legalized abortion. She served in cabinet positions, became the head of the Conservative Party, and, after she led them to victory, became the Prime Minister from 1979-90. She lowered taxes and decreased government spending, supported privatization of government services and property (raising £37 billion), and limiting the power of unions.  As shown in the movie, one of the key defining moments of her tenure was her response to the Argentine invasion of the British-controlled Falkland Islands in 1982.  Thatcher responded by sending a naval task force to engaged in armed combat, resulting in a surrender by Argentine forces after 74 days.

Some of her best-remembered quotes:

Socialists cry “Power to the people”, and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean—power over people, power to the State.

Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.

Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word.

The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.

If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.

Ronald Reagan called her “the best man in England” and she called him “the second most important man in my life.”  A 2011 poll named her the most competent Prime Minister of the past three decades.

Now frail following several strokes and struggling with memory loss, the Baroness Thatcher seldom attends public events.

 

 

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The Real Story
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