We See Chick Flicks: “The Iron Lady”

Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd

Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of the United Kingdom the year I was born (that would be 1984) and remained squired away as a footnote in my memory under “Scary Conservative ’80s Politicians (SEE: Ronald Reagan).” I read several British newspapers and I know, nowadays, that “Thatcherite” is used as an insult. But I also knew that Margaret Thatcher — like Hillary Clinton, like Angela Merkel — was a pioneering woman in the field of politics who deserves my respect and perhaps even admiration. To see Margaret Thatcher brought to life in “The Iron Lady” by Meryl Streep was, for this liberal feminist, an absolute treat.

And if you couldn’t care less about Margaret Thatcher? You should still know “The Iron Lady” will snatch up all sorts of Oscars: possibly one for best picture, possibly one for best director, possibly one for best screenplay, possibly one for best actress, possibly one for best supporting actor, and most certainly one for hair/makeup.

“The Iron Lady” is not a biopic, exactly. It’s not a love story, exactly, either. The narrative goes back and forth from present day, when Margaret Thatcher is stooped over as an elderly woman, to her adolescence during the bombing of Britain during World War II, to her rise up through the conservative party ranks, to her eventual shame-faced resignation. If that sounds disjointed, it isn’t. Director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Abi Morgan did an incredible job making it flow in a way that makes sense to boobs like me who had little to no knowledge of Thatcher’s history.

The conceit that runs throughout the film — and don’t worry, I am not spoiling anything — is Margaret Thatcher looks back on life while conversing with her deceased husband, Denis Thatcher (played by Jim Broadbent, whom I recognized as Bridget Jones’ dad but normal people will recognize from “Harry Potter”). The couple fall in love and marry when Margaret is an ambitious 24-year-old grocer’s daughter who is keen to bring enact change during her life, in particular by bringing fiscal responsibility to the conservative party. Young Margaret Thatcher (played by unknown Alexandra Roach) and young Denis Thatcher (played by Harry Llyod of “Game Of Thrones”) turn the idea of being a political power couple on its head; she is very much a doting mother and wife who pursues her career, while he pursues a career of his own and supports her nearly unfailingly.

As Margaret Thatcher rises through the ranks, she meets derision and outright sexism from the old white men who run the British government and are none too keen about this strange “nagging” woman in red lipstick. It becomes quite clear where her nickname “the iron lady” comes from; this whip-smart and acid-tongued woman does not suffer fools and is unstoppable in her ambition. When she is elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, she seems surprised she has made it so far. The audience isn’t.

The Verdict: Personally, I found Margaret Thatcher utterly inspiring — not her politics, of course, but her fortitude. She’s not a woman who enjoys fame and power or pursues politics for her own ego’s sake, which is how I would characterize Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Margaret Thatcher is a woman who believes in herself because she has a clear plan of what she wants to accomplish and how best to strategically, methodically accomplish it. Watching her bulldozer-strength on film, especially when her male colleagues in British Parliament make sexist comments, fortified me. More than once during the film, I was reminded of cruel, sexist emails and blog comments that I myself have received.  Now I want to channel my inner Margaret Thatcher when those things happen.  

But the unexpected heroes of “The Iron Lady” are the men in her life: her adoring husband Denis, as well as her father, who encouraged her higher education and ambition. Upon accepting Denis’ marriage proposal, Margaret tells him that she won’t be the sort of wife who dies washing a teacup. Before she dies, she says, she wants to enact change in the world. Denis tells her, with obvious affection in his eyes, that’s precisely why he loves her. 

Not everyone who attended the screening with me enjoyed the film. I heard criticisms that it painted Margaret Thatcher and her conservative politics in too sympathetic a light. That may be true, but I feel the same way I do about this film as I do about Micheal Moore documentaries: let viewers judge for themselves. In fairness, however, there is no real plot to the film. Some viewers may find that frustrating. I loved it — but then again, I would watch Meryl Streep read her grocery list. I would happily see “The Iron Lady” again with friends, as I’m sure I could get even more out of it than I already did. 

“The Iron Lady” opens for limited release on December 30 and rolls out during January.

Image via IMDB.com