What a crying shame. Meryl Streep's brilliance as Mrs T can't save an ill-conceived film that distorts history
The Iron Lady (12A)
Verdict: Great performance…pity about the film
Torment: Streep as Mrs Thatcher, with whiskey, shortly after the sinking of the Belgrano
Meryl Streep is bound to be among the awards contenders for her uncannily accurate, Oscar-quality performance as Margaret Thatcher.
But that doesn’t prevent this film from being jaw-droppingly misconceived.
Many times, I found myself silently mouthing the words our former Prime Minister used about European expansionism: ‘No, no, NO’!
Director Phyllida Lloyd’s second film has all the economic and political sophistication of her first, Mamma Mia!
The Franco-British picture is far from the hatchet job some were predicting — it chooses to portray Thatcher as a plucky underdog defying a male-dominated establishment — but it’s naive.
It’s also bewilderingly single-minded about missing out everything that made her a unique and formidable figure. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a question for you: which of the following five statements is true
1. Thatcher inherited a bankrupt economy in hock to the International Monetary Fund. Her free-market policies left the British economy competitive in the world’s marketplace.
2. Her empowering social policies include the sale of council houses to their tenants, giving ordinary people a stake in a property-owning democracy. Even the Labour Party dropped opposition to the scheme by 1992, because they knew it was losing them votes.
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady' Released January 6 2012
3. She argued so strongly against involvement in the European Monetary Union and membership of the euro, that her Cabinet colleagues conspired successfully to bring her down. Her much-ridiculed prediction was that a single currency could not accommodate industrial powerhouses such as Germany and backward countries such as Greece.
4. She strongly believed that Germany remained an expansionist nation that would use the euro to extend its power over the rest of Europe.
5. She is now senile and talks a great deal to the ghost of her long-dead husband Denis.
Alexandra Roach as young Margaret Thatcher
According to the new Thatcher biopic, the first four statements — though accurate — are too insignificant to merit inclusion in a 105-minute movie, while number five, though highly dubious and of little significance, warrants more than half-an-hour of screen time.
The rest of the movie consists of a gallop through some of the major events in her life, without much attempt to analyse whether she was right or wrong: the miners’ strike, the IRA bombing at Brighton, the Falklands conflict.It’s hard to know what screenwriter Abi Morgan was thinking.
Perhaps she felt spending so much time on Thatcher’s recent ill health would engender sympathy. Or, perhaps she feels senility is divine retribution for past crimes. It’s impossible to tell.
It’s too bad the film glides over Thatcher’s interest in chemistry and the law.
Convincing though Alexandra Roach is as the young Margaret, there’s no mention of her career as a research chemist or her training to become a barrister.
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Jaw-droppingly misconceived: The film's adaptation of Thatcher was bewilderingly single-minded, missing out everything that made her a unique and formidable figure
As far as the movie is concerned, she went straight from Oxford into
politics. The fact she didn’t strikes me as central to her beliefs and
Among her qualities were a forensic attention to detail and a powerful
ability to argue a case. Of the supporting cast, Anthony Head stands out
with an accurate impersonation of Sir Geoffrey Howe.
Denis, though, is portrayed far too superficially by Jim Broadbent as a
genial buffoon, mostly loyal to his wife, except on one implausible
occasion when he turns on her for devoting too much time to politics,
and too little to her family.
The normally excellent Broadbent is lumbered with a caricature based, it would seem, on the Private Eye column Dear Bill.
There’s no room in the movie for Keith Joseph or Nicholas Ridley, two of
Mrs Thatcher’s most formidable intellectual mentors, or her most loyal
henchman, Norman Tebbit.
The men around her, with two exceptions — her adviser Airey Neave
(Julian Wadham) and strategist Gordon Reece (Roger Allam) — are depicted
as bumbling incompetents or jealous chauvinists.
That’s typical of the film’s distortions. It consistently, and
predictably, sacrifices complexity and depth in order to pretend that
Margaret Thatcher was something she never set out to be, a feminist
icon. That, of course, is not why she deserves commemoration. She
deserves to be studied because she was right about so many things, and
carried out her public duties despite hysterical abuse from most of the
political and media establishment.
Small wonder this is what interests these film-makers least.