The Iron Lady


Written by Georgie Hobbs
09 Monday 09th January 2012

So pro-Thatcher is it that The Iron Lady can be seen as the right-of-centre flipside to The West Wing. It’s overwhelmingly for Thatcher in the same way that Sorkin’s show deified democrats and their charmingly flawed leader, Jed Bartlet.  It forgives Maggie’s foibles and turns a blind eye to the impact she had on the public. When we do see voters, it tends to be working women awestruck by Maggie’s presence, or weeping as she’s ousted from power. Disquiet, when it comes, is in the form of faceless eighties news footage that’s over so quickly viewers are horse-blinded into sympathising with the people’s leader, but not the people.  Anyone that challenges Maggie in parliament is portrayed as a grey-haired Oxbridge creep while the constant rumble of a seeping orchestral score is always on hand to soundtrack Maggie’s victories. Controversially, these moments tend not be ‘wins’ as we think of them now – the Pyrrhic victory that saw Britain retain the Falklands Islands is a particular stinker.

Like screenwriter Abi Morgan’s (Brick Lane, Shame) depiction of Margaret Thatcher, this entire film is haunted by spectres. The angry, political dramas of Ken Loach and Shane Meadows loom; incendiary films about ‘real’ people directly, and negatively, affected by Thatcher’s iron fastidiousness. But we have seen those films – some of which, like This is England directly concerned with the fatherless youth of the Falklands War, are the best this country’s ever produced. The Iron Lady is their nemesis. Meryl Streep and Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd have masterfully humanised “iron”, portraying Britain’s sole female prime minister as a willful feminist who forwent popularity (and sleep) to see her beliefs come to fruition.

There’s some cracking dialogue that – politics aside – makes you want to high five the old dear. Meryl plays Maggie as a woman who devours weakness.  When a “doddery” Thatcher is forced to consult with a young doctor regarding her mental health, she answers his inane “touchy-feely” questions so witheringly you want to stand up and cheer. It’s a fantastic scene for which Meryl should win Best Actress alone. And of course, she’s terrific throughout – but you knew that. Everyone knows that. It’s why book-makers William Hill currently has odds on Streep, who has been nominated for Best Actress 13 times, winning at 1/1.

Streep’s performance aside, the question becomes, will The Iron Lady garner the same momentum that The King’s Speech did this time last year? It’s as emotionally manipulative, sure, but, by definition, Thatcher doesn’t have the humility that made Firth’s King so desperately charming. And, despite the inroads she forged for women in the workplace, anti-Thatecherite feelings are unlikely to dissipate. (She probably snatched your milk, as she did mine, after all). Nevertheless, with this, rousing and often moving, film, you really have to see it to make up your own mind – after all, the iron lady once said herself, “you cannot lead from the crowd.”


The Iron Lady is in cinemas now

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