Recently on campus we had a screening of the 2011 film The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep and documenting the life of former (and legendary) British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Two students in the European Politics class wrote a film review – one positive, one more critical – and you can read those reviews below.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher continues to be one of the most divisive figures in British politics, more than thirty years after her tenure ended. The recent movie rightly titled, The Iron Lady, depicts Ms. Thatcher (played exquisitely by Meryl Streep) as an aging woman who often reminisces about her time as the first female Prime Minister of Britain. During the course of the movie, her journey from a grocer’s daughter to historic public figure and the controversial decisions she made along the way are portrayed via memories in her mind.
Her memories of her initial involvement in politics are fraught with elders from the Conservative Party who thought very little of her or her potential. When asked her opinion the stereotypically old, white, men (with one exception) simply laughed at the idea of some girl representing them in Parliament. Her father gives her some advice that Thatcher would arguably be the foundation of her political life: “Don’t follow the crow, go your own way Margaret.” Go her own way she did.
The Iron Lady doesn’t fail to deliver when portraying the former Prime Minister’s most controversial decisions such as using military action to defend the Falklands. Streep captures Margaret Thatcher’s resolute decision making with an unforgettable quote, “The Falklands are ours…and I want them back!” The movie also depicts her policies concerning domestic, economic issues and her willingness to take on the trades unions. These are perhaps her most divisive policies and ultimately, factored into her being pushed out by leaders in her own party.
Whether or not her policies were the best solutions is still the subject of heated discussion in the U.K. However, one thing is, in my opinion, quite clear. Margaret Thatcher did what she felt was right and to hell with what anyone thought. She was a fearless leader who was shamefully pushed out of power by politicians more concerned with their re-election. This type of leadership is seriously lacking in American politics. Where is a leader bold enough to fight for causes that are important to them? Enter Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The Con: The Iron Lady Misses the Mark
Margaret Thatcher was one of the most important British political figures of the 20th century, as well as one of the most controversial—and not least because she was a woman. The legend she left behind is one of political obstinacy and personal determination. The Academy Award-winning film The Iron Lady attempts to capture this quality, but it misses the mark.
The film tells the story of Margaret Thatcher’s life through her hazy recollections as an old woman. Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Thatcher is nothing short of perfect, and she is backed up by an all-star cast, including Jim Broadbent. However, the film falls short in virtually every other aspect.
The storyline is decidedly unfocused, jumping back and forth from her adult life to her elderly one. With seemingly little rhyme or reason to which political events the film decided to portray, Thatcher’s story appears disjointed. The information about her political career seems almost incidental as the film emphasizes her struggles with dementia and her deterioration from Prime Minister to a confused, stubborn old woman who is desperately clinging to her sanity.
Despite the emphasis on her post-politics life, the film still provided information about Thatcher’s journey to the top, and themes we studied in European Politics informed my viewing of the movie. It was interesting to see the interactions between Thatcher and the opposition in Parliament, and I understood the system better thanks to our discussion of “Question Time.” The portrayal of the IRA attacks reminded me of more recent attacks and riots in London. The film also showed the Falklands War, which was interesting given our discussions of the influence of colonies and territories, but it didn’t give very much detail about anything other than the decisions Thatcher had to make, so I wasn’t able to draw many parallels with our studies.
In general, I felt that I understood the politics portrayed in the film better thanks to our class discussions, but the film lacked real political information. It would have been more interesting had it gone a little more in-depth about Thatcher’s trials, successes and decision-making. Since it was for a popular audience, it makes sense that the filmmakers chose to focus on the more personal aspects of Thatcher’s career, but in doing so, they overdramatized her story and downplayed the magnitude of her political feats. If the film was aiming to provide a special view of Thatcher as an ordinary person, it did not succeed; it gave the sense of simply wanting to take Thatcher down a notch by portraying her at her weakest, tormented by dementia and memories.
This film lacks the political relevance that it could have attained, and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone hoping to learn more about European politics. The Iron Lady doesn’t tell the story of one woman’s formidable political journey. Rather, it tells the tale of Thatcher’s fall from greatness to a life plagued by dementia and regrets.