By Patrick B. McGuigan
The new film ostensibly about Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady,” is a deeply flawed and disappointing movie.
It’s little wonder that many of Thatcher’s family and co-workers have either refused to see the film or described their agony after seeing it. The sum total of this movie is mendacious and at times appalling, particularly the voyeuristic nature of nearly half the storyline, focused on Thatcher’s recent years of grief (after her husband’s passing), dementia and physical decline.
Despite the confused and unworthy script by Abi Morgan, Meryl Streep as the title character catches the cadence and tone of Thatcher’s unforgettable voice. Portrayal of much of her lifelong love affair with husband Dennis (James Broadbent) is another redeeming feature of the story.
Two glorious cameos come from performers portraying the young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) and Dennis (Harry Lloyd). By and large, performers in this story acquit themselves quite well. The problem is that they are trapped in a motion picture unworthy of the subject matter.
The film was viewed at Bricktown’s Harkins Theatre, where the seating is always comfortable. It is the kind of place where great movies deserve to be shown, and seen. The film’s technical brilliance, including stellar use of sound and film archives, are appreciated, and in this venue could be savored.
Thatcher can certainly be viewed critically. She was notoriously tough on subordinates, a fact portrayed in the film as marring the end of her tenure in Parliament and as the Queen’s “prime” minister. She also, however, inspired remarkable devotion, a truth relegated in this film to one of her initial relationships in leadership, a solid cameo turn by Nicholas Farrell (fondly remembered for the part of Aubrey, the narrator in “Chariots of Fire”).
Insufficiently developed yet not completely ignored is the sustained impact of Margaret’s upbringing as daughter of a big-city grocer. Alfred Roberts (Iain Glen) is conveyed as a man Reaganesque in his comprehension of commerce and entrepreneurship as tickets upward for people of modest means.
The story dubiously posits the Falklands War of 1982 as the incident that rescued her tenure and propelled Thatcher, then in her third year in power, to nearly 12 years at No. 10 Downing Street. This is akin to defining the Reagan presidency by the Grenada rescue mission or the Libyan bombing mission.
What defined Thatcher’s leadership of Great Britain and of the Conservative Party were arching themes, and practical steps taken to achieve broad objectives. She pushed back against the tyranny and financial ruin the most powerful labor unions had wrought on her beloved nation. She combined pro-business policies with fiscal discipline to restore, for several seasons, the dynamism of a great nation.
Most consequentially for the rest of the world, with Reagan and Pope John Paul II – assisted on the world stage by men like Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Vaclav Klaus and a few others – her tenure triggered the series of events that led to the final collapse of Soviet tyranny, the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the end of Russian communism. Thatcher discerned in Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev a man whom, she told Reagan, was “someone we can work with.”
Her departure from power is portrayed as the result of personal pettiness toward her Cabinet colleagues. The script ignores the matter of principle that divided her from her cabinet – her assertion that British sovereignty could not be surrendered to the emerging “European Union.” Thatcher will win the history books: Her leadership in ending the confiscatory taxation rates of the 1970s has been praised even by Labor leaders.
Alas, despite Streep’s performance and those of several others, the definitive film treatment of the magnificent woman the Soviets dubbed The Iron Lady is not found in the film deemed “The Iron Lady.” This motion picture mistreats both the flesh and blood woman known in these latter years as Lady Thatcher, and the legacy of the grocer’s daughter – one of the half-dozen most significant Western leaders who served in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.