The Iron Lady

I disapproved of the the film The Iron Lady long before I saw it. What sort of sick Hollywood types think it is okay to mock a still living person by highlighting their suffering from Alzheimer’s to the world.

If Jimmy Carter had Alzheimer’s, would they be making films of him as an old confused man, babbling about the SALT treaty. No chance at all.

Don’t get me wrong, once someone is dead, any portrayal of their life should be warts and all, and include their twilight years when their mental facilities were not what they once were. But my views were that such a film should not be made when the subject is still alive. And I still believe the film was premature.

But something wonderful happened with this film, despite the suspect motives of those behind it. Meryl Streep brought to life, in a way I would not have thought possible. She made her strong, she made her powerful, she made her sad, she made her obstinate, she made her defiant, she made her out of touch, she made her lonely and most of all she made her human – not just a caricature.

If Streep does not win an Oscar for her performance, then there is something seriously wrong. It was a stunning performance by her. She looked and sounded absolutely convincing. Alexandra Roach as the younger Margaret also performed wonderfully.

The film is an emotional one. Yes, I got wet eyes at times. It was a very sad story, but also a very uplifting one at times. It is effectively a series of flashbacks of the present day Lady Thatcher thinking through her life from working in her father’s grocery store, to getting involved in politics, standing for Parliament, becoming Leader and then Prime Minister plus the highs and lows of her time in office with her eventual resignation 11 and a half years on.

The present day Lady Thatcher is obviously suffering from Alzheimer’s. In the main, they capture this remarkably accurately and with sensitivity. A good example is how she slips out of the house to buy some milk as she needs some for breakfast, and this sparks a major panic amongst her staff and Police. From her point of view of course she is capable of going to the dairy. But from their point of view they are worried that if she has a forgetful spell when out, she’ll get confused and may wonder anywhere.

They accurately showed that she was still somewhat active – signing books, the odd public outing – but also obviously frail. The big plot element was that her dead husband Denis always appeared to her as a ghost, and she was often seen talking to him to the dismay of her minders.

They over-played the ghost of Denis angle, but it was still quite endearing. They captured his charm very well, and there is no doubt she terribly misses him. Anyone who has lost a partner of 50+ years would understand.

On the political side, they got it absolutely right. People forget what a massive achievement it was for her to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. This was a time when few few women were in politics, and she battled to be accepted every step of the way. You just wanted to punch some of those patronising old men.

They showed her at her best when talking about doing what is right, not what is popular. Absolutely inspiring. And the scene where she verbally lashes the US Secretary of State for suggesting they negotiate (she called it surrender) to the Argentinians was superb – especially how then suddenly she goes all lovely and asks if she should play mother and pour the tea. The Americans are all pale white at this stage.

The film though is definitely not a sycophantic account. They show the hatred, and the protests. They show her unwillingness to bend on the poll tax and they show the humiliating way she treated some of her cabinet colleagues such as Lord Howe – which led to her downfall. They subtly made Heseltine out to be a type of rodent, which was excellent.

Finally the ending was spot on. In her hallucinations she has finally let Denis move on and he is seen walking down the corridor away from her with his bags packed. She cries out for him not to leave her alone, and he replies that he isn’t – that she has always been alone.

And that gets to the crux of Thatcher – she fought battles all her life – and generally she did fight alone. It was a lonely life, and in her end years an even lonelier existence. You feel both sorry for her and (if not a hater of her) inspired by her.

As I said, I was prejudiced against the film before I saw it. But as I saw come out from the likes of Boris Johnson describing how well it captured Thatcher, I started to look forward more to the film. And Boris was right – it did capture her so well, warts and all. I still don’t like the timing of the film, but Meryl Streep especially made the film a magnificent portrayal of her life.

Incidentally I saw the film at the Shoreline Cinema in Waikanae. It’s a lovely little cinema with two rooms. Room 1 which we were in seats 40, but on two seater couches which were very cool. They also have room for wine or food in the spaces between each couch.

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