Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Cathartic Iron Lady
It is a tradition - or has been since work no longer interfered - to visit Glasgow on Mr B's birthday, meet rellies, take in a movie (fun that, to go to the cinema in the late morning with about 10 other people) and enjoy a late lunch somewhere nice (tapas, this year, and very enjoyable). Yesterday we went to see The Iron Lady. There were reasons for doubting the wisdom of choosing this over, say, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I'd read negative reactions from people I know, as well as glowing reviews from journalists I trust; I tend to favour the big action movie for the proper cinema with the super sound system and be content with more domestic action on the small screen; I loathed Thatcher and all that she stood for when she was in power. But the time was good for our day - time for coffee before and lunch afterwards so that we didn't fall asleep like the old fogies we become - and the consensus obvious, so Mr B spent a chunk of his birthday with Margaret Thatcher.
I was bowled over. It's a magnificent piece of acting on the part of Meryl Streep, for a start. Jim Broadbent was fascinating as Dennis - and the scenes of the young Margaret and Dennis fed convincingly into the couple we felt we knew at the time, and made the partnership credible. Yes, it brought back the rage and the frustration and the demonstrations I took part in; the sinking feeling after her third election victory and the sense of alienation from the British electoral process. But it brought it back in such a way that I knew it was over - history for Thatcher, history for me. What is not over is what happens to people as they grow old, and I was convinced by that too. I've read fictional accounts of dementia and felt somehow cheered, and I know that there are wonderful moments of hilarity in the life of a friend who now suffers from dementia, but this film showed another side. Along side the chuckle-producing moments with the recurring visions of the deceased Dennis, there were the moments of despair, exhaustion, bewilderment - and the all-too-obvious physical effort of being ... old.
I don't see me struggling into smart frocks and pearls in my eighties - don't do it now, for heaven's sake - but I was made to think about the illusions we create, the armour we put on, the show of strength that becomes pathetic as we diminish. It was this that stayed with me and had me reaching for the wine-glass over lunch, and this that makes me wonder if our reactions to the film are coloured by our stage in life.
The film has its entertaining moments, but it is not mere entertainment. For me, it was as striking as any tragedy, complete with fatal flaw and the fall from a great height. And like a good tragedy, it achieves catharsis.