kainosite: (Goveballs)
[personal profile] kainosite
I finally got around to seeing this, and I thought I should write up a review.

The first thing you should know about The Iron Lady is that it's not a political movie. It's not really a biopic either, although it pretends to be. It's a movie about old age that stars Margaret Thatcher which has a biopic pasted- or perhaps I should say pastede- into the middle of it. It might have been a better movie if it had cut the biopic entirely, because its heart lies in the relationship between Maggie and Denis Thatcher's ghost, not in the flashbacks. The story of Maggie's dotage is one it tells very, very well- I defy anyone to come out of it not shipping Maggie/ghost!Denis like mad- but it has no idea what to say about Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister.

So, its strengths: Meryl Streep is a terrifyingly realistic Maggie, and Jim Broadbent is the unsung hero of the movie as Denis. Streep's challenge is to play someone as iconic and as immense as Thatcher in such a way that you don't notice it's not the real Margaret Thatcher on the screen, and she nails it, but Broadbent has to convince you that bland little Denis is a person Margaret Thatcher could love, and that he's someone who could love her back, and he bats it out of the park. Within about two minutes of watching them eat breakfast, I was entirely convinced that a) I could never, ever stand to live with her for five minutes and b) Denis thoroughly enjoys being her sub. If the entire movie had consisted of nothing but Maggie interacting with the hallucination of her husband, it might have achieved true greatness.

Though not an unproblematic greatness. The previews contained a trailer for W./E., which they're billing as a sweeping romance. Through the whole trailer I was sitting there thinking, "This is a pretty standard plotline; were there no people who weren't Nazi sympathizers that you could find to star in it?" This movie has much the same problem. Old age comes to all of us, if we're lucky. If you're going to tell a story about getting old and lonely and being haunted by your life choices and hallucinations of your dead lover, it's not clear why it needs be told about Margaret Thatcher.

It's also very unclear why screenwriter Abi Morgan thinks the most interesting thing Thatcher did was go senile. I can't help but notice that all the biopics about female British politicians seem to focus on them suffering from degenerative diseases- this, Mo- and while this gives me great hopes for the impending debut of Yvette, I do feel it might be nice to have a movie in which a woman did some politics, for a once. Where is Barbara Castle's biopic?

Those issues would have been largely forgivable, though, if The Iron Lady hadn't also had a biopic pastede on. It's a bit ironic for a lolitician to complain about a movie focusing on a politician's personal relationships at the expense of politics, but the political flashback sections were so unfocused in this that I honestly felt they did Maggie an injustice. The biopic section starts out with young Maggie saving butter from the Nazis, facing down sexist assholes and falling in love with Denis, which works brilliantly to establish her character and sow the seeds of Maggie/Denis, but as soon as she gets into Parliament and her politics become as important as her bravery and her gender, the film loses the plot.

We see her neglect her family for the sake of her career, we see her drive the country into rioting, we see her alienate her colleagues with her fanaticism, but except for a two second clip in which the lights go out at the Cabinet table and another brief shot of uncollected trash bags, we never see what Thatcherism was created to fight. If your thesis is that your protagonist was so bloody-mindedly focused on achieving her political goals that she fucked up her family life and eventually her own career, I think you owe her the courtesy of giving us a clear idea of what those goals were, and why she thought they were of such paramount importance.

God knows I'm no fan of the Tories, but when I write from their POV I try to sell their ideology. A montage of a few major events in the 80s isn't enough. We can't reach a fair verdict on whether Maggie's personal sacrifices were worth making unless we know why she made them, and the biopic sections just don't give us enough information to understand what Thatcherism is about. It's a very attractive montage, but it's just events happening one after another without any casual links- the writers aren't interested enough in the politics to bother connecting them.

If you look at The Deal, which is also a love story in the guise of a biopic, we're given a very clear idea of why Tony feels he should stand for the leadership, even at the cost of Gordon's friendship, and why Peter decides to defect. We understand the stakes because we've been following proto-NuLab through Opposition long enough to know how hard it sucks, and how Gordonish Gordon can be. Tony still comes off as a selfish dickbag, but there are other facets to the decision besides his ambition. Judging by The Iron Lady, Maggie closed all the pits and on a whim. It's not a fair representation, and if Tebbit wants to complain about something in this movie, he ought to be complaining about this, not Maggie's senility.

One thing the movie didn't do, which I was afraid it might, was cast Geoffrey Howe as the villain of the piece. That would have been unforgivable, but it has integrity to depict the bullying. It does seem to suggest Hezza brought Maggie down to keep his ministerial car, which strikes me as rather unjust seeing as he'd given it up four years before precisely so that he wouldn't have to put up with her bullshit. But Hezza knows he saved the country from a Kinnock premiership, so I reckon he can cope with a little slander. Geoffrey deserves gentler treatment after all he's been through.

It also doesn't depict the downfall of Maggie as a bad thing, the triumph of the Old Boys' Club over Our Heroine. The bullying scene more or less puts paid to that notion. It's a good thing, too, because by any modern standard the Wets are better people, and that matters when it comes to depicting their coup attempts. I'm really uncomfortable with any political narrative that paints them as the bad guys, but the biopic sections of this movie weren't coherent enough to have a political narrative, so... well done, I guess?

So, go see it for the endearing romance of senile!Maggie and ghost!Denis, and watch the flashbacks as if they're a random assortment of YouTube clips rather than an attempt to tell a story.

Rating: 3/5, purely because of how cute and shippy the Thatchers are together.

PS. This movie suffers from a severe dearth of Norman Fowler. I judge you for this, movie. I judge you A LOT. >:[

PPS. I couldn't spot Dennis Skinner in the Parliament scenes, but I'm pretty sure I heard him shout "Shame!" at one point.

PPPS. You know who needs a biopic? THE BEAST OF BOLSOVER, that's who. (Also Norman Fowler, but I'm pretty sure that movie would have an audience of one.)
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