The Iron Lady, Peckhamplex 07 January


That looks like an American woman's gesture...

The first thing to say is that if you see this at Peckhamplex Screen 2 then it’s better to sit at the back:  there’s a defect or pimple in the middle of the screen that can be distracting if you can see it.

As everyone knows, the film follows the daily routine of an elderly, widowed Thatcher succumbing to dementia.  At the beginning she escapes from her minders to buy a pint of milk and at the end…well best not to say…

Meryl Streep certainly gets both the accent and the voice.  She also does a brilliant performance of your mother (well certainly my mother) when she’s losing it and the old charm will still work on you but it’s just embarrassing when she speaks to outsiders.

The politics is just put in as flashes of backstory–one woman doing it her way against all opposition.  The film doesn’t really tell you much about how or indeed why she did it.  And it’s not exactly true either–according to the Wikipedia article, it was marrying a rich (older, divorced) man and having her children young that enabled her to devote herself to a political career.

Denis looks just as young as Margaret here

I think there was some general melioration as well:  Alderman Roberts for instance was a much better speaker than small-town politicians are in my experience.

If you compare this with Aleksandr Sokurov’s  Taurus, which deals with a stroke-afflicted and dementing Lenin, it’s clear that the dementia is also somewhat prettified.  And if you want to convey the effects of dementia, it would be better to use some dimness and distortion, not just leave everything Hollywood-shiny.  The film suggests that Thatcher’s overconfidence on the Poll Tax was connected with the onset of dementia, when simple dizziness due to success is a much more straightforward explanation.

It’s also interesting that the trailer and the stills you can find on the Internet show scenes from political life when most of the film is the dementing old lady.

I think this is a film representing  Carol Thatcher’s viewpoint:  at the very least, since she’s the only one of the family in any position to sue she must have consented.  The justification for the film is probably that it will give an opportunity for discussing issues around dementia, just as Dreams of a Life was meant to foreground the modern absence of community.  These films share the problem that they try to conflate the older dead or demented heroine with the younger bright and sparky one and leave out what happened.

I really don’t know any more about Margaret Thatcher’s life and personality than is in in the Wikipedia article, but it seems more than likely that she was a driven, demanding, obsessive and perfectionist individual willing to sacrifice a very great deal for her career, and as such very like many people in Hollywood–possibly including the one Meryl Streep sees in the mirror several times each day–and not very like the one portrayed here.

In spite of all of this, I found myself buying into the film because of Streep’s brilliant portrayal of my late mother (if not Margaret Thatcher) in her declining years, and because it was about my time which will never come again.

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