Not so Iron Lady

Posted on January 16, 2012

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My Meryl Streep obsession began as soon as I clapped eyes on her in Sophie’s Choice. It was love at first sight, and not of the ‘I love Madonna cos she’s awesome’ calibre, that dominated my teen years. This, dear readers, was a dalliance from a higher plane, a blinding admiration for astonishing acting skills that could only have been conjured up through magical powers. I was fairly certain that Ms Streep must be, in fact, a unicorn.

Which is why I was so eager to see her take on the role of one of the most divisive women of modern times – Margaret Thatcher, the milk snatcher herself. And for all those of you now picturing dear old Mags with a mythical horn projecting from her head…I’m not sorry.

Not one to mess with - Meryl Streep as Thatcher in The Iron Lady

Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic The Iron Lady has been described by the Guardian as ‘Thatcher without Thatcherism’. History, polarising Conservative policies and the nation’s love/hate relationship with its first female Prime Minister take a backseat as we’re offered a poignant and intimate window into the Iron Lady’s private life – from her early years working in her father’s grocery, to her tragic struggle with dementia in later life.

Worshipped by some as the woman that exhaled life back into a withering nation, reviled by others as a corrosive canker at the heart of society’s burgeoning rich/poor divide, Thatcher triggered a fissure in British political ideology like no other leader before her. But whatever your stance on Thatcherism, you have to hand it to her – breaking into the male dominated political world of the 1970s was nothing short of miraculous. Streep does a fantastic job of exuding this fierce determination and absolute refusal to give up on her values, ever.

However the majority of the film exposes the present day, vulnerable and defenceless version of Thatcher. From the outset we see her tottering – confused and disorientated – to her local shop for some milk, and later on attempting to drown out her dead husband’s voice with the sound of kitchen appliances. The Iron Lady’s fragility and mental decline is brought to the fore in microscopic, and at times unsettling, detail – revealing her to be less iron, and more soft, malleable polystyrene.

It pains me to agree with anything that tumbles out of rubber-faced David Cameron’s mouth, but his indictment of the morally reprehensible nature of shining such a harsh spotlight on Thatcher’s private life, while she’s still alive and painfully deteriorating, definitely resonates. Although the whole production is fantastic in every way; entertaining, intriguing and emotionally moving, it’s close to the bone nature is at times a little uncomfortable and left me feeling a bit like a peeping tom.

Scenes which document Thatcher’s journey up the Government’s greasy pole –  like her feisty speeches in the house of commons bear pit, conflicts faced with her divided cabinet , and protesters attacking her car in rebellion against her ruthless spending cuts – provide welcome respite from the through the keyhole view into her private world. It’s a riveting viewing that perhaps could have employed a bit more tact, giving us more Thatcherism, and less Thatcher.

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Posted in: Art and Culture