Monday, 9 January 2012

The Iron Lady: Sports more then a little Rust

"The Lady Doth Screech too Much"

I recently went to the pictures and saw the Iron Lady(1), and if you read just a single word of this blog before it will not surprise to learn that I didn't like it. But not for the reasons you're probably thinking of (unless of course you have also seen the film then you'll probably have a good idea).

I am actual quite capable of enjoying films either for or about people and groups I detest utterly if they do a good job. For example two of my favourite films are Downfall and Richard III by Ian Mckellen and I am about as far from both there lead characters politically as you can get.

No I didn't like this film because it simply wasn't very well made. Even if they had called the film "Donkey Jacket" and made it about Michael Foot I'd still be able to recycle much of this review with just a few find and replaces.

But first lets start with the good things.

The Pro(gressives:)

Acting for the most part barring the flashbacks was excellent. Meryl Streep nailed the appearance, mannerisms attitude and voice of Lady T. In fact the voice was so good that it reminded me of the Spitting Image Puppet (pictured). Jim Broadbent was also fantastic as older Dennis, in fact he was so good that I genuinely looked forward to seeing him come back on screen for another minute or so. To put that in perspective for those who haven't had the pleasure of the real Dennis Thatcher, he was basically a drunken bigot without any responsibility or sense to keep his views and temper moderated or private. If you were someone or something he didn't like (which was most people) a flurry of insults would be hurled in your direction, he was in short nothing more then a vile little man.

Richard E. Grant made the most of his small role as Hesseltine, his very eyes oozed smarm, slime and ambition. And Anthony Head played Geoffrey Howe the long suffering Cabinet Minister (he had many positions over her ten years) comes off like a school boy with self esteem issues that's finally worn out the patience of his school teacher. I really felt sorry for him in his few scenes as he was effectively bullied and humiliated publicly for years. To quote a random Tory extra "I wouldn't treat my gamekeeper the way she treated him".

And Michael Pennington was very believable as Michael Foot I wouldn't be surprised if his House of Commons debate dialogue was an actual quotation, too bad he has only one speaking scene.

And well thats mostly it, I liked the first scenes at the beginning showing Thatcher trying to cope with Alzheimers and living with a world that has completely moved on, and before you start no it wasn't because of Schadenfreude but because it was well shot and showed an interesting look into mental illness and old age.

And now I've finished nibbling on the bread and butter its time for the main course.

The Cons(ervatives :)


Sadly the acting wasn't uniformly good.In particular the Young Thatcher and Young Dennis segments were excruciating. It may surprise some that Thatcher was a women(kidding) and the 1950's Conservative party wasn't exactly a hot house of Women's liberation, she was also the daughter of a grocer from Grantham which in the eyes of the Tory hierarchy made here a prole as well as a fishwife. So of course scenes involving her past take the obvious route of showing her as the outsider and underdog fighting against ignorance and the underestimation of her abilities, the problem? the acctress comes across as shrill and has that curious demanour that screams "I am both absolutely sure of my talents and yet completely terrified about the possibility that I may be wrong" or to put it another way she comes across as someone who intellectually knows her background shouldn't matter but emotionally isn't sure. It doesn't help that the first scene meant to establish her bravery is her rushing out during a German Air raid to cover up some butter. Yes really the scene meant to show us that the Iron lady has always been tough is her risking her life to stop a small slab of butter going mouldy. Oh and the last time we see Young T is when she agrees to marry rich upper-class Dennis effectively removing most of the stigma in the eyes of her Tory colleagues via associations of her man (take note feminists). In fact her early rise to Parliamentary Candidate in the film is attributed to her parroting word for word the speeches of her own father so essetially her entire career was dependent upon her father and husband, bot exactly breaking the glass ceiling is it?

Young Dennis is even worse. His voice is sulky bordering on just holding back tears and he makes really weird faces. I simply can't explain it but he "mugs" to the camera like a pantomime caricature, and exaggerates his features like.... well a Spitting Image puppet.


The film also has that infuriating habit that some directors fresh out of film school fall into, and that is gratuitous "symbolism". You know things like playing opera over a scene of a beating because thats what Kubrick did in Clockwork Orange, or splicing in reaction shorts during an argument between two characters even though its jarring, or placing a "magical" moment in a film that otherwise is down to earth and realistic? well this film is loaded with that, minus the operatic beating. Many scenes also involve actors forcing drama and tension by speaking slightly quicker then normal and in constantly grave tones like there telling you your teenage son was speeding and was nearly (not quite but it was terribly close) killed. It also had this odd audio trick where dialogue spoken through a radio or telly would come from only one speaker on the left or on the right that constantly annoyed me and broke what little immersion there was.

To help you grasp just how loaded with over the top edits, splices and effects this film was consider this anecdote. Just after the Falklands scenes end and we get the victory montage, my cinema's audio cut out and it wasn't until they went to Thatcher giving a speech that I was sure this wasn't another of the films audio show off's. In fact much of the films "this is important this is complex" moments where so poorly handled they came across as comedic I laughed a lot in this film mostly because of the films incompetence.

Historical Revisionism

Another thing that really bugs me is that the film for no discernible reason puts several events in the wrong order. When I first heard about this from a friend I thought they meant since the film is a non linear serious of flashbacks an reminisces that they showed events in the wrong order because she remembered them in that order. Nope, the Miners strike apparently took place before the Falklands war which is odd given that the strike was in 84-5 and the war over in 82. There really is no reason for this, the strike reference isn't even its own segment its part of a montage of dissent with other protests rallies and riots, so it couldn't have been that they were stuck looking for negatives. In 1981 alone there was the Brixton riot, the Toxteth riot, the Moss Side riot, the Chapeltown riot and the Handsworth riot. And those were just the riots, there were plenty of anti-unemployment marches, Trade Union pickets, and CND rallies that also turned violent too. I think the answer is again incompetence, they needed to include the Miners strike because it was the most infamous episode of the Thatcher years and best illustrates the divisive nature of her Britain but any substantial look at the Strike in particular its "policing" would be indefensible and conflict with the weakly positive message of the film. And any attempt to white wash the event would of created a storm of controversy that the makers don't want so lets to shove it in the middle somewhere.

Unintentional Comedy

For me what really nails the lid of the coffin was that even the things I liked were clearly not intentional. Even the fine acting manages to condemn the overall film. If you were to edit all of Jim Broadbents scenes together and post it to youtube as a fake trailer for the "New Satirical Comedy the Iron Lady" I and a lot of people would believe it was genuinely the direction the film was going in. For context (spoiler alert) Dennis is of course dead which makes older Dennis -played by Broadbent- a part of Maggie's demented hallucinations. And for some reason it was decided that Jim should play Dennis as a sort of attention seeking clown who often engages in slapstick physical humour (yes I am serious, the demented hallucination is Charlie Chaplin in disguise) which is why I enjoyed watching him. Again I don't know why they decided this, Jim Broadbent is perfectly capable of playing a smug right wing hanger on in love with power just look at his portrayal of the Duke of Buckingham in Richard III for proof of that.

Another source of frequent amusement was the aforementioned inept use of arty tricks, the source of this one is clear, poor execution. I'm not joking when about 50% of the "clever" scenes in the film out of context could be placed in a sketch show with little adjustment.

In Conclusion I give the film One out of Five on the Scargill scale.

1: Incidentally the film was made by the now defunct UK Film Council, quite amusing to me (in a bitter way) given that the body was one of the first for the chop when Cameron and Clegg came to power.


  1. Hi There

    I'm watching the film right now on Channel4 and I think that you are thinking of the wrong miners' strike. The one that was referenced in the film was the 1970s strike which was the death knell for the Heath government, not the 1984 strike.

    Mind you, would they have been walking through streets of rubbish bags in the early 1970s, rather than during the Winter of Discontent?

    Apart from that I'm in agreement with you so far, it's not an impressive film apart from some of the acting.

    I am finding the radio and TV voiceovers are excruciatingly bad.

  2. I now see what you mean about the out-of-order 1984 Miners' Strike and Falklands War.

    Given that winning the Falklands War was what gave here the political capital to take on the Miners in 1984, that's bizarre!

    Also, the Brighton Bomb was included (fair enough), but no mention of the 1981 Hunger Strikes, which arguably gave her a victory which gave her the confidence to take on the Argentines.

    Some ropy stock footage of a torpedo launch and Exocet strike.

    Not an impressive film at all.

    Michael (sorry for leaving my name out of the last comment).


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