Editor Myles Parish on an Oscars favourite.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Released thru Pathé
Starring Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent
When I discovered that The Iron Lady – a film about arguably one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, certainly of the Cold War – was to be directed by the same individual responsible for the soporific Mamma Mia! The Movie, I was tempted to say “Mamma mia” myself. However, I exercised restraint and resolved to see the film on Cheap Tuesday instead.
I have to say, what I saw caused a deep impression. The film opens with an aged Baroness Thatcher, “escaped” from the captivity of her home – a metaphor for her crumbling mind, perhaps? – purchasing a pint of milk from her corner shop. She wanders home to the relief of her caring and doting daughter, who chastises the ‘help’ for letting Mrs Thatcher ‘out’. Later on, Mrs Thatcher sits down to tea, and the always charming Jim Broadbent appears, playing the long-since passed away Denis Thatcher, Margaret’s husband. He is visible to his wife and the audience only, a visual manifestation of Mrs Thatcher’s tragic dementia.
While Mr Broadbent’s performance is to be commended – as always he plays a big softie – it is ultimately his presence that causes the film to go astray. The vast majority of the film focuses on Mrs Thatcher’s present struggle against dementia, and as a bonus we get a small set of shallow and narrow vignettes from the Thatchers’ lives prior to Mrs Thatcher’s downfall in 1990 that appear like the shaved ham in a cheapskate’s sandwich – not often enough and without enough depth of flavour.
This is not to say that the film itself is rubbish. I thought it was a marvellous piece of film-making. It looks good, the attention to detail is wonderful, and the performances by all the cast are just brilliant. Many of the small parts say the most – after the perhaps 15 minutes that war hero and statesman Airey Neave (played by Nicholas Farrell) is on screen, you feel your gut drop when his fate befalls him.
Meryl Streep gives a very solid performance as Mrs Thatcher – her accent is spot on, and the hair and makeup people have done an excellent job. Any awards are richly deserved.
Unfortunately, though, this is not the conservative dream-in-reality that many of us hoped for. You get the feeling that – and I’m editorialising heavily here – the only way the ‘Hollywood establishment’ felt safe portraying the Baroness was at her very weakest, merely skimming over the woman who, until recently, remained deeply influential worldwide. The film ends up being more about the tragedy of dementia and the effects it has on people and their families.
That’s not a bad thing – but a film about the Thatcher Legend this is not.