Dubbed “The Iron Lady” by the Soviets, Margaret Thatcher was one of the most influential figureheads of the 20th century.
Serving as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, Thatcher’s stay in office was the longest term in the 20th century; she served the U.K. in that position from 1979-90. While several television adaptations of Thatcher’s life have been made, the new feature film The Iron Lady is a recent release and will finish screening at Images this week.
My expectations for this movie were high due to the Oscar buzz around Meryl Streep’s performance as Thatcher (she is nominated for Best Actress), but they were also a bit skewed. I am no history buff, so in my mind this movie was going to be a romanticized account of a strong, independent woman who beats all odds and rises to the pinnacle of political power for the first time in the history of Western government. While all of these things are true, I also found that it might have been made too Hollywood-approriate. While Streep’s portrayal of Thatcher was incredible and the glimpse into her personal life was fascinating, the storyline following her political career may have been leaning a little too far away from actual history and a little more toward a feel-good plot.
The movie consists of two parallel storylines. The primary one follows Thatcher in her old age, confined to her home under the watch of doctors and housekeepers as she begins to have hallucinations of her long-dead husband. The second plot line is pieced together by Thatcher’s flashbacks and traces her political and personal life from her days as a teenager working in her father’s grocery store, to the early days of her marriage and finally, to her career as prime minister.
Streep’s performance is far and away the best part of the movie. As an old woman essentially living alone, Streep gave her character a human quality unknown to most people who knew the real Thatcher. Known for her harsh financial cuts and labor policies, Thatcher was a highly controversial political figure throughout her 11 years as prime minister. While Thatcher’s personal side made the primary storyline touching and emotional, it may have been a little soft when applied to her political life.
This was not true throughout the entire film, though, and there were certainly moments when the prime minister’s ruthlessness came through. For instance, the movie portrayed Thatcher’s humiliation of Geoffrey Howe, the last remaining original member of her 1979 cabinet, in front of all of their colleagues, leading to his resignation and a brutal hit to her bid for reelection. There was also an interesting look at the personal sacrifices Thatcher made for her career. Growing up with a conservative mayor and business owner for a father, Thatcher had a personal policy that, “Those who can do should just get up and do.” This mindset led to a very aggressive political career that resulted in her losing sight of her family over time.
The historical aspects of the movie were not immensely problematic to me, but I can understand how some critics might be wary of their accuracy. The emotional aspects of the movie, in tandem with the narrative on Thatcher’s turbulent life as prime minister, were what made the movie really take stride. Thatcher’s politics aside, Streep portrayed an aged woman who entertains delusions of her lost husband as she attempts to cope with the last years of her life and the difficulties that accompany them. It is a truly heartbreaking story, particularly because of its very realistic portrayal of Thatcher’s current situation. As Andrew Pierce, of the U.K.’s Daily Mail wrote in an article in late December, Thatcher, “increasingly frail and forgetful after suffering a series of minor strokes, was expected to spend Christmas at home alone once again, with her faithful housekeeper Kate as her only company.” Despite becoming a renowned political figure across the globe, Thatcher now suffers throughout her personal life, and the movie provides an intimate look at this imbalance.
Overall, I found the film to be successful. I enjoyed the perspective it took on Thatcher, looking back on her life from a later vantage point, and Streep provided a knockout performance well worthy of an Oscar. While it may have been soft on Thatcher’s political life, the insight into what made this woman the famous figure she became was enthralling, and I highly recommend it.