The Iron Ladies

It was a very “Engish” day for me, as I read a book about The Queen and saw a movie about Margaret Thatcher.

The book about the Queen by Robert Hardman was a recommendation of a recommendation by a friend of a friend who apparently said something about how it’s a really terrific “behind the scenes” look at the day to day business of the Royal Family. So far, from what I’ve read, that’s not the case, and the central theme of the book is “The Queen has ruled for over 50 years, has seen Prime Ministers, Popes and Presidents come and go and is therefore wonderful”. I’ll keep struggling with it for a few more days, I suspect to see if it gets beyond the level of a hagiography.

The film about Margaret Thatcher is far more interesting. As such a polarizing figure, even now, you just know there’s going to be people who love her and people who loathe her who will be both for and against the film.

I disagree with the two main criticisms I’ve read of the film so far: that it spends too much time dwelling on Thatcher’s current state of health, and that it ignores the politics of her time.

The opening scene of the film features a disguised Thatcher buying milk from the local corrner supermarket and remarking at how expensive it was. Thatcher was, of course, the Education Minister who famously phased out free school-milk in the UK.

Minutes later she’s back at her home, listening in to the hushed-tones of those caring for her in her latter years, as they insist “She musn’t be allowed out on her own again”. It’s unclear if she’s at that stage of Alzheimer’s Disease where she has “the wanders” and needs protection, or feels she has become a prisoner in her own home.

Anyway, her declining mental state is a recurrent theme throughout the film as she both remembers and forgets incidents in her life. Although it’s a recurrent theme, I thought its role was not to dwell on her latter years in decline, but to act in a dramatic sense as a trigger for the dramatic flashbacks.

The early Margaret Thatcher is an interesting character. She comes across as a bold woman for her time, in an era when women weren’t supposed to go into politics. She meets (the very-dishy actor who plays) Dennis Thatcher, tells him she couldn’t be an “ordinary wife”, and there’s even some suggestion of opportunism about the marriage, when Dennis says something about “how you’ll never get elected to parliament as a single woman, but if you marry me…”

Her desire for power also becomes evident in the scenes where she takes “media training” to lower her voice and to have her hair and clothing made-over, in an effort to gain party leadership. She comes across as quite pragmatic. “Well if that’s what I have to do…”

I can’t agree with the assessment the film ignores or downplays the politics of Thatcherism. There are many, many references to: the three-million unemployed, to the riots and the protests (including documentary footage), and to the way in which she went to war in the Falkland Islands when her popularity levels were at their lowest, despite the advice of those around her etc. The film doesn’t ignore politics. It’s mostly about politics.

But there’s also a personal side too, with the apparent estrangement from her son Mark who lives in South Africa, and in the relationship with her daughter, Carole, who seems to have taken on a caring role for her mother. Carole, by the way, is played wonderfully by the mother from “Beautiful People”.

And Meryl? Brilliant, of course.

So yeah, I don’t agree with the criticisms about the dementia and the politics, but I will add one of my own. It was a little boring. There were moments when I found my interest and attention wavering. Perhaps that’s because the producers/directors/writers etc have written the film seeking to portray a “balanced” view of her? If they’d made her a saint, people would have screamed. If they portrayed her as devil, people would have screamed. Perhaps, because, they’ve trod that middle-line, they’ve ended up with a film that’s just a little dull?

So yeah, that’s how I’ve spent most of Sunday. At the movies, and reading.

  1. Carole is played by the mother in Beautiful People? Missed that one. Yes, the guy who played the young Dennis was very nice. I didn’t find it boring, but there was a lot of footage of lingering on her face and us trying to guess what was happening in her head.

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  2. Here’s the actor who played Carole http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1469236/ and here’s the actor who played Dennis http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0516003/ who apparently is the great-great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.

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  3. The other thing I forgot to say is… I kept looking at Meryl playing the older Margaret and thinking Catherine Tate plays Nan.

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