In a nutshell: Ding dong, the witch is – oh. Still alive. Damn.
Popcorn rating: 2.5/5
I’m not Margaret Thatcher’s biggest fan. By that, I mean of course that she’s a vicious old vulture who ripped bleeding flesh off the country’s dying corpse with one claw while pressing its face into the dirt with the other. So I was prepared for the The Iron Lady to present a more balanced picture of the former PM than the one in my head (in which she’s usually kicking away a child’s crutches).
However, it’s a disturbingly sentimental portrait by any standards, right down to speeches about the Falklands backed by hideous stirring music. Jumping between the past and the present, in which an elderly Thatcher (a remarkably unrecognisable Meryl Streep) talks to her late husband Denis (an unremarkably recognisable Jim Broadbent), The Iron Lady suggests Thatcher’s only real transgression was being impatient with Geoffrey Howe over poll tax.
Surely even the most ardent Thatcherite would have to admit that she was divisive figure, but that’s glossed over here: for instance, the order to sink the Belgrano is covered in about five seconds.
Setting aside such qualms, I’m interested in the politics of this period, so I thought there would still be much for me to enjoy in the film. But sadly, Thatcher’s career is covered as just a succession of events with no feel for what links them, and very little substance. Airey Neave is blown up in front of Thatcher’s eyes by an Irish National Liberation Army car bomb, but there’s no insight into how this might have influenced her destructively stubborn stance on Northern Ireland. We see the plucky young grocer’s daughter stick it to the sexist Tory toffs on a candidate selection panel, but there’s nothing on her failure to give a toss about gender equality once in power.
Instead, we get endless scenes of Thatcher today, confused and frail, but as I can’t say Maggie ever cared about the elderly, sick or mentally ill when she was slashing NHS budgets and throwing psychiatric patients on to the street, it’s odd that I’m suddenly expected to equate her with, say, my nan (who in any case would have put her fag out in Thatcher’s eye if they’d ever met).
Everything you’ve heard about Meryl Streep’s performance is true: she is astonishingly good. And once you get the hang of a lot of very familiar people pretending to be other very familiar people, the supporting cast is splendid too. But not even a staggering turn by Streep and fine efforts from a who’s who of Britain’s finest character actors can save this one.
Reviewer: Jo Sheppard