Movie: The Iron Lady (2012)

Don’t seem to get out to the films these days do I? Actually it’s only been a week since Mission Impossible, but let’s overlook that shall we? I’ve been coaxed out of my comfort zone of blockbusters and fluffy romcoms and into the terribly earnest group of “Oscar hopefuls”.

It happens from time to time, but I really can’t miss a biopic, particularly if I actually KNOW about the person they are … biopiccing (?). By “KNOW”, I mean “heard of”. Of course it would have been difficult not to know who Thatcher is, even being born three years into her epic term as the UK’s Prime Minister such as I was.

Someone mused a month ago when Kim Jong-Il died that there’s a generation to whom the most enduring image of him was as a puppet in “Team America: World Police”. A little worried, I realised that I mostly remembered Thatcher by her portrayal as a puppet in “Spitting Image”. But I was only 9 when she left office, and puppets are just more fun at that age.

I wondered if Meryl would be able to crack through that caricature, and avoid making this look like a spoof. The look, the voice and the mannerisms were all there, but there were several points when she got through to the human underneath. Those prosthetics in the “old Maggie” sections really were amazingly real (aside from a few moments towards the end when she looked a bit like Catherine Tate’s foul-mouthed “Nan” character).

But I think this fell down on the story. I imagine it’s hard to make a biopic on one person’s life; lives aren’t scripted, and rarely fall into the usual cinematic storytelling structures. They tried to combat this by angling this film as the memories of an elderly Thatcher. This is where it gets tricky. I think the scenes with Thatcher struggling to deal with dementia, and hallucinating her dead husband Denis were played very well for the most part, I was really drawn in. Some scenes dragged on, admittedly, and the “closure” at the end felt very peculiar. But as a film about a strong-willed woman trying to keep a grip, it was wonderfully done.

Similarly the historical parts were competently handled, if a little briefly. They really needed to focus more on some of these parts than racing through her history in order to cover the key points. It’s not supposed to be a revision guide, or a Rocky montage. The Falklands War was pretty solid stuff on its own. I think perhaps the brief to make a biopic was taken too literally. We ended up with a rather schizophrenic mash of two good films edited together with some confusion.

Meryl (+makeup) really did make this film, as did Olivia Colman in her brief appearances as daughter Carol. Jim Broadbent was being the character he often plays in films, for better or worse. Young Thatcher hit the mark well, and Young Denis (played by him off thing … you know, Game of Thrones) was very charming.

As a biopic, I don’t think it serves as much more than a Beginner’s Guide to Thatcher. There were plenty of Thatcher one-liners, delivered brilliantly, and the later years (just as older Thatcher was portrayed) were a little muddled but often very powerful. It might not have worked as a good biopic, but I liked whatever we ended up with.

(Though I think this trailer doesn’t really sum up the film particularly well at ALL)

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