Notwithstanding the attraction of watching test cricket for days on end, we managed to prise ourselves away from the teev late yesterday to trot up to the local cinema to see Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady.
I call it Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady deliberately because without her very convincing performance, I would have absolutely hated the film.
I did actually quite hate it. Embedding the story in the context of Margaret Thatcher’s declining and demented years was not only misleading, it was also intended to influence the viewer’s opinion of her achievements.
Sure, it was pretty amazing that the daughter of a grocer could lead the Conservative Party and become the Prime Minister for nearly 12 years – both were unparalleled achievements – but, hey, just check out what a nutty old bag she’s become.
She even talks to Dennis, even though Dennis is dead. Hard to admire that. And, as for Dennis, what an ineffectual handbag, prone to cracking corny jokes, he turns out to be …buck up, old girl, and all that.
Obviously, modern scriptwriters regard linear stories as so passé (gosh, it sounds as though I have undertaken screen studies – linear, such a fancy term for beginning, middle and end). The Iron Lady jumps around from teenage-hood, courtship, motherhood, parliamentary career, key decisions made as PM.
But most of the film is taken up with MT shuffling around in her dotage, trying to buy a pint of milk and sort out Dennis’ clothes. Not much interest there. And then there is the hapless Carol doing … not much, actually.
There was passing reference to her political achievements in taking on the trade unions, closing down uneconomic coal mines, saying no to Europe (although this was seen as a negative at the time, and led to the resignation of Geoffrey Howe for this and other reasons), reining in government spending, encouraging home ownership and the successful retaking of the Falkland Islands.
But there was a misleading emphasis placed on the violence and riots associated with some of these reforms (which were in fact intermittent and mostly peace prevailed) – with lots of vivid footage replayed at various stages in the film. By the same token, there was no reference to the real intellectual division in the UK that was a feature of the Thatcher years – and continues to this day.
The only bit of the film I did like was the portrayal of all those upper-class Tory twits whose instincts lead them to support compromise and inaction (witness the capitulation to the incredibly disruptive union movement by the Heath government). What a pack of feckless fops. By contrast, the few scenes in which Thatcher’s commitment to do what she regarded as right (including her alliance with Reagan) and with resolve comes as a relief within the general tedium of the film.
No doubt, she misjudged the issue of the poll tax and there is quite a lot of this in the film. But the fact that she was able to turn around the UK economy – don’t forget the IMF had had to be called in the 1970s – which led to significant productivity gains and increases in per capita income is mentioned only in passing.
But Meryl Streep’s portrayal of MT in her prime (forget the old bat bit) is uncanny and convincing. Quite amazing, really, to the point that it is easy to think you are watching the real MT.