3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
It is easy to understand why Phyllida Lloyd chose Meryl Streep to portray Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” Not only is she a gifted and nuanced actress who sympathetically portrays Thatcher in her cloistered life as an octogenarian with dementia, but Streep also believably portrays the confidence and stubbornness of Thatcher at the height of her power as the only woman Prime Minister of Great Britain. Although the political life of Thatcher is presented with undeniable bias, the entire film is as much about her as a person as it is about her rise and fall from power.
Based on the writing by Abi Morgan, the majority of the film is set within the present-day. Confined to her apartment by her Alzheimer’s disease, Thatcher’s memories take us in flashbacks throughout her life as we experience her humble beginnings, her marriage, her rise to power and her eventual betrayal by her closest political allies.
As the daughter of Alfred Roberts (Iain Glen), an idealistic politician who was both mayor and grocer of their small town, Margaret’s (Alexandra Roach as a young woman) acceptance into Oxford University gave her the education she needed to pursue her political passion. When Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd and Jim Broadbent) proposed marriage by explaining that it would help her career to be the wife of a successful businessman, her acceptance was dependent on his understanding that she wanted more than to be a wife, mother and homemaker.
Thatcher’s rise to power was due in part to her strong conservative convictions that she learned from her father, but these same convictions eventually brought her service to an end. Having served what would be three terms for an American President, her eleven and a half years as the top decision maker in England was remarkable. Although there are differences of opinion regarding her policies and methods, there is no doubt that she influenced not only Great Britain but also the world. These are favorably presented in the film but not without also showing the opposition she both created and faced.
Believing deeply in the conservative solutions to poverty and terrorists, Thatcher did not see it as her responsibility to help other women rise to power. Choosing men as her advisors and leaving behind her children in order to enter Parliament, Thatcher simply seemed to be at home in the world of men. This is seen most particularly when she hallucinates her deceased husband in order to navigate the isolation of her final days, as well as the disregard she shows toward her own care-giving daughter, Beatrice (Emma Dewhurst).
“The Iron Lady” is a provocative film about one of the most significant leaders of recent British and world history. A masterful character study of an intriguing person by a brilliant actress, it offers a unique contribution in understanding the powerful persons and pressures in the political realm.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. If you remember the days in which Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were the world leaders, do you believe this film presents Thatcher in an appropriate manner? Why do you answer as you do?
2. The choice Thatcher made to leave her children when they were running after her and asking her to stay in order to serve in Parliament is a dramatic moment with life-long implications. How have you navigated both family and career? Do you think Thatcher felt she made the right choice?
3. The eventual betrayal by her own conservative party brought Thatcher’s career to an end. How much do you believe she contributed to this?