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.


  1. Dear Christine,
    This is an excellent review of a movie. I'd suggest you send it to the local newspaper.

    Meryl Streep may be, in my opinion, the finest actor in the United States. She breathes life into her characters.

    Like you, I didn't respond positively to Thatcher when I read about her in the US newspapers just as I was not a fan of Ronald Reagan. But my tendency sometimes to pigeonhole what or who I don't understand can sometimes be blown apart by a good movie that explores nuances.

    Thank you.


  2. Christine, this excellent review really makes me want to see the film, even though I, like you, deeply loathed all that Mrs Thatcher did and stood for. I too think Meryl Streep is an outstanding actor who brings life and heart to the characters she plays and would never be guilty of caricature.

    Belated Happy Birthday to Mr B.

  3. Thanks, Perpetua - I'll pass that on! And thanks to you both for your positive reactions. It's sometimes hard to be sure of conveying what you intend, is it not?

  4. Doubt not - this is one of your best. Did you read Iain on it in the Sunday Herald?

  5. Yes, I did - that's the journo I refer to.

  6. My husband and I both saw the film last night! You have given an excellent review. My husband, an admirer of Thatcher, thought it dwelt too much on her dementia. I found it extremely moving, but I wondered if any of it was based on any actual knowledge of her condition and behaviour -- after all the events of her life as PM were all more or less factual -- so I am a bit uncomfortable about that. However, Streep was amazing -- what a performance. Even my husband was impressed.

    I came to Britain in 1980 -- so was here for most of her reign. I did not like what she did to this country and that whole period was very difficult for many people -- especially in the north of England. My husband goes on about how she stood up to the unions who were destroying Britain, etc. etc. -- I am sure you've heard all the arguments ad infinitum!

    Recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- a kettle of fish entirely different!!

  7. Thatcher in my mind created the ground for Scottish Nationalism to flourish as it now does, and that flourishing gives me the equilibrium to be able to watch the film as a piece of theatre without throwing up! As for The Girl .... I think we'll be borrowing the DVD from a pal; days out to the cinema take some planning and I wouldn't go the length of myself to see a movie in our local cinema, where they seem not to have changed the lightbulbs in the projector for the past 30 years ...

  8. Going out to the cinema is just far too difficult, what with leaving the dog etc and the long drive and I admire you for making the effort. Thanks for the revue, I shall definitely see the film once it transfers to dvd.