Chaffing political portraiture
I was not aware that it was perfectly possible for a former British head of state to go and buy a pint of milk, unguarded and undetected. The Iron lady is a film that is built primarily on the idea of deflating readily established prisms of thinking when it comes to Margaret Thatcher. It is an understudy of the varying elements that correlate and at once bring to the fore one of the most attention-grabbing characters in recent political memory.
Up until recently it was easy to think of Thatcher in a defeatist default. As one of the last frontiers of British leadership in its most adamant and out of touch manifest. It would have been infinitely easy and plausible for this film to dwell into one of two regularities of the political biopic. The first being a continued butchering of Thatcher and her society of “big ideas.” This is the kind of social thesis that was invasive post her governance. The other default of course would have been to set right the order of her affairs. In a way making the film a much more tender emotional display than the actual reality.
What director Phyllida Lloyd has created here is an image of accountability. The Iron lady shows Margaret Thatcher as a woman of fleeting sensibility. Battered by hallucinations of her deceased husband, all but abandoned by her children in old age and left to deal with those familiar vices of political legacy. This is perhaps the theme that is most influential in the parenthesis of this film. It is surprisingly cliché but no less effective. In one of the earlier scenes in the film a young Thatcher tells her fiancé who has just proposed marriage that she will not die washing teacups, because “One’s life must matter.” This is a film that seeks to answer that question, does Thatcher’s life matter? It does not operate in siding with whether her life matters in a good, bad or indifferent way.
What Lloyd also showcases is the fact that through most of her political career even during her time at Downing Street, Thatcher was always an insistent self-doubter. In fact it even implies that her rise to the top of the Conservative Party and ultimately prime minister was merely an accident of history. A consequence of unmonitored luck as she laughs off her advisors when they tell her she could and should lead Briton. This is particularly shocking considering that our social jargon when it comes to MT primarily articulates her as a woman of insistent and unwavering character. If however this film is to be believed this self assuredness that was never really acquired but rather a façade in order to maintain the right moral decorum of being head of state.
Perhaps the most insightful part of the Iron Lady is a scene right in the middle where an older Thatcher monologues to a doctor about how in politics it is important to place emphasis on ideas and less on feelings. It is a cinematic let down of sorts that we never really get insight into how Thatcher won the Conservative Party leadership and even the seat of Prime minister. Rather we only experience this through snippets of speeches and montages. This film I think is cruel in showcasing Thatcher as merely an inspiration to women in politics, not an inspiration to women in general or even politics on the whole. It incubates her achieve to a specific historical trajectory, as if her achievements could have been done by anyone following the rise of feminist thinking on Europe.
There are times when this film falls victim to those familiar defaults of portraits of British power. If you have seen The Queen, the Kings Speech and even The special relationship you will know exactly when I am talking about. The newsreel stock footage of riots and a depleting British public, the wide shorts of building s of power and their wooden finishes infused with the close ups of shoes. It all seems rather typical but it serves its functionality.
In this film Streep once again affirms her status as perhaps the most important charter actor in cinematic history. Her ability to swing between the older more alcoholic drenched Thatcher and the more refined and plum version of the early years is a sensation all on its own. Interestingly in this film she does not place emphasis on accent as she has often done in the past, rather she has opted to use hand gestures and posture as a strong part of Thatcher’s swaying personality.
The Iron lady is in many ways about a disjointed atonement, a personal accountability to one’s own morality and is showcases Thatcher’s life as being very personal to her as much as it was political to the British public. This is a film that has character and not opinion at its epicenter and as a result is an effective account the chaffing effect of the Thatcher era. An era built entirely on suggestive thinking.