Last weekend I went to see The Iron Lady at the IMU. This was a film that I had thought looked interesting when it was first previewing, though one I knew I probably wouldn’t go see in theatres (like most movies, I should add). However, when you get the chance to see a movie for free (especially one that has potential to be good – and was a multiple Oscar winner), it’s almost never a bad idea to take advantage.
So we went.
The Iron Lady tells the story of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) in an interesting – and initially confusing – way. The film begins with a quite elderly Thatcher in a rather modest apartment needing the extra care and monitoring of her family. It’s not until well into the movie (perhaps a third of the way in) that we learn that her husband has actually been dead for quite some time and is a mere hallucination that she is interacting with regularly. It’s around this time that we as the audience begin to see that Thatcher is rather confused and struggling to keep her reality straight, which actually eases some of the confusion that the audience has probably felt until this point. We begin to understand Thatcher’s confusions, thus making some of the story a bit more comprehensible to us as we start to see where reality ends and her hallucinations begin.
The life of Thatcher is told in bits and pieces through flashbacks that the elderly Thatcher has as different memories arise from certain objects she encounters or old news reels that she watches on sleepless nights. Actual footage from Europe is also mixed into the film throughout some of these flashbacks which adds to the authenticity of the film. Overall, it makes for a very staccato-like film as we are forced to put these bits and pieces into a coherent picture through flashbacks, news reels, and present day reality versus her on-going bout with dementia.
Meryl Streep was amazing in the movie as Thatcher. I’ll be honest in saying that my knowledge of Thatcher was pretty spotty at best going into the film: female Prime Minister, influential, ruled for a while, conservative. The film really added depth and rounded out some of that very spotty surface knowledge that I had of Thatcher. Streep definitely embodied those characteristics, but also really seemed to understand the context of the situation.
Thatcher was a female politician living and working in a very male arena. It’s nearly impossible for us to imagine some of the hardships and challenges that Thatcher would have gone through on a daily basis in such a world filled with older, wealthy, white men. From blatant and explicit name calling and questioning her on nothing more than the fact that she did not have a penis, to subtle stares, finger-pointing, behind-the-back talking, and being ostracized, Thatcher was most likely a victim of nearly every type of sexist prejudice imaginable. Yet somehow, she managed to carry on, win over her party, and become a very influential leader for a good tenure. It’s absolutely incredible to think about, and while the reality is probably one that is unfathomable, I would argue that through Streep’s portrayal, we probably got as close as one might to some of these issues.
The film also has an interesting – and I would argue central – take on aging and the lifecourse. One of the points of emphasis, and one of the aspects that makes the film unique, is the way in which the story is told – through the flashbacks of the elderly Thatcher. There is a great deal of emphasis on the discomforts and difficulties that the “present-day” Thatcher is feeling. She struggles to remember where her son is (living in Africa – not down the road) and whether or not she is the current prime minister. She has frequent conversations with her dead husband, even though she generally knows that he has passed; at one point she turns on every appliance, television, and radio in the apartment to try and drown him out, and at another point she repeats “I am not mad, I am not mad,” over and over to herself to try and escape her phantom husband. We also see that she is physically extremely uncomfortable at times, cannot sleep through the night, and often has difficulty focusing for long periods of time.
This focus on her dementia, physical difficulties and discomforts, and emotional toll really place aging as a central theme that is explored. In fact, I would argue that this film could be described as a film on aging told through the life of Margaret Thatcher rather than a biographical film on Margaret Thatcher. In either case, it makes for a unique take on the life of Margaret Thatcher and how the film writers and producers chose to tell her story (food for thought: would we have seen a male leader’s story told in a similar manner??). Regardless, the film was interesting, unique, and rather insightful; and Streep was definitely worth seeing as Lady Thatcher.