Much like the real person, Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady (or to give it its Argentinian title, War Horse) split opinion like nobody’s business when it came out last year. It nabbed Meryl Streep her third Best Actress Oscar and charts the life of one of Britain’s most controversial Prime Ministers. Having seen it in the cinemas and being rather unimpressed by the whole thing, I volunteered to give it another hearing on DVD as I felt I may have been slightly unfair on the film. Turns out I was right the first time. That’ll teach me to doubt myself.
The Iron Lady starts, rather grimly, with a present day dementia-addled Thatcher (Meryl Streep) going to to the corner shop to buy some milk. When she returns, she talks to her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), a pretty impressive feat as the man’s been dead for several years. We then flashback to Thatcher as a young woman (Alexandra Roach) and see her struggles getting started in the male dominated world of politics. Let’s get the good out of the way. Meryl Streep’s performance is undeniably brilliant as Thatcher and truly deserving of the Oscar. She inhabits the role and makes what could have been simply a decent impression of Maggie into a fully fleshed out, sympathetic character. Jim Broadbent is also reliably brilliant as Denis. Current industry “dahling” Olivia Colman also gives a great performance and is virtually unrecognisable as Carol Thatcher. I was really impressed by Alexandra Roach too. The acting’s perfectly fine. It’s everything except the acting that I have a problem with.
Okay, maybe not everything except the acting, but close enough. The whole reason for the film seems baffling. Whilst I think Thatcher’s life is an interesting one and worthy of a cinematic adaptation, there are a few major issues I have with the film. Firstly, the film struck me as pretty ghoulish, showing present day old Maggie doddering about, not really knowing what’s going on around her, especially as she’s still alive. Secondly, if this is meant to be a biopic, what the hell is all this arthouse nonsense with Maggie talking to the long-dead Denis? I get the feeling the filmmakers missed the point about making a film about Margaret Thatcher. She’s one of Britain’s most infamous political figures and to skirt around the major controversies in her career like the miners’ strikes and the Falklands fiasco seems very odd indeed. If real life was like this film, the Falklands war would have been over in about 10 minutes. The film instead focuses on Maggie being a feminist heroine, which I can agree with to a certain extent, and her worsening mental health. What is the point that the film is ultimately trying to make though? Are we meant to look at old Maggie and comment on how the mighty have fallen? Is the film making the point that no matter how strong you are, age will always win? I really don’t know.
The Iron Lady (much like the person) is a mixed bag. If you’re looking for a true account of Thatcher’s days and some insight into her more controversial decisions, you’re not going to find it here. The film flits between King’s Speech charm (there’s even an elocution scene that is strikingly similar) and arthouse oddery and can’t make up its mind which one it wants to be. It’s very well acted, but that’s about it.