Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Allam, Richard E. Grant, Alexandra Roach and Anthony Head.
Running Time: 105 mins.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Sunday, 15th January, 2012.
Biopics continue their current trend of being extremely popular in recent months. We’ve had Marilyn Monroe, released this Friday there’s the very different double-whammy of J. Edgar Hoover and Wallis Simpson, but, towering above them all is the 16-time Academy Award-nominated Meryl Steep, as the much-contested, contentious first lady of politics – Margaret Thatcher.
For one half of the public she’s still regarded and idolized as one of this country’s finest politicians, with her badly-needed radical shake-up of policy, for the other (depending upon where your political views lie) she’s this forever-tainted ‘monster-mother’ figure, where the population are said to still be recovering from her time in office.
It’s perhaps fitting then that structurally, this is distinctly a film of two halves, one charting her meteoric rise to power in the ’79 election, focusing on her political life, and the other controversially depicting her in the present day, as a frail old lady suffering from dementia, under the illusion that her husband Denis is still alive.
It’s for this latter half that the film has received some much-publicized criticism, with people, in the press and public alike, expressing their view that it’s cruel to show the effects of someone living with Alzheimer ’s disease.
But actually, while I can certainly understand their point, on this occasion, I disagree. The portrayal of Lady Thatcher’s rapid decline in health, is actually dealt with truthfully, sympathetically, and very tenderly. It’s by no means intrusive in any way, and I look on it as a brave choice to make.
The problem is, the balance is somewhat uneven. In fact only about forty percent of content actually focuses on her as the politician, and surprisingly the majority of the film actually occurs in the present day, with a lonely, older Margaret as she is now, reflecting through utilizing the rather odd format of flashbacks.
With this heavily one-sided ratio, what you’re in fact left with, is predominantly an incredibly sad film, made most saddening for the stark antithesis of once seeing such a powerful figure in her heyday, with all that power suddenly taken away.
Dare I say, to me, the trailers have been quite deceptive, in making the film seem like a far more lighthearted affair, with the inclusion of the first bars of the eighties hit Our House now feeling rather misjudged after having seen the finished film.
While the film itself was said from the outset to be completely politically impartial, at times it’s evident that it doesn’t paint her reign in power in a particularly favorable light, with the emphasis seemingly being on her decision to apparently widen the ever-increasing margin between the wealthier upper-classes and the poor working-classes.
The film has also been criticized for being ‘political-light’. I really don’t think it’s political-light at all, it crams an awful lot of key issues into its comparatively short running time, sometimes using actual news footage. These include that famous speech and her final entry into No. 10 in that iconic blue suit, the Falkland’s War, the riots, the rising poll-tax and the bombings of both Brighton’s Grand Hotel (from which Margaret and Denis narrowly escaped), and the fatal car-bombing of her colleague Airey Neave.
The element of including the real archive footage for some of these issues is worth mentioning, as it helps provide the audience with a real sense of truthful and authenticated urgency.
Of course, while the film itself may have a few minor misjudgments in terms of either structure, format or tone, what it does contain is an absolutely flawless, superb portrayal from Meryl Streep.
It feels inaccurate to describe what she does as acting – at no point did I feel I was watching a performance on the screen. From the first frame to the last – she was Margaret. It’s the closest interpretation of a real-life figure I’ve ever seen. I’ve no doubt that she will win countless awards fully deservedly, including a long-overdue third Oscar. Every aspect, from the posture, to that unmistakable authority in her inimitable tone of voice, the hairstyle, even the prosthetic make-up used for her as she is now, are all beyond uncanny, particularly when she’s in her unstoppable speech-mode.
Abi Morgan’s brilliant screenplay does include some much needed witty dialogue with lines such as: ‘The Falkland Islands belong to Britain…and I want them back'. When at an appointment with the doctor, who murmurs: ‘You’re bound...to be feeling...’, she simply replies in her velvety tones: ‘What? What am I bound to be feeling? What we think, we become. And I think I am fine’. My favourite line is: ‘I may be persuaded to surrender the hat. The pearls however, are absolutely non-negotiable!’.
Thomas Newman’s excellent score, is melancholic in the present day sections, while being frenetically charged with tension as it charts her public career, really informing the audience throughout.
There are strong performances too from Jim Broadbent as the bumbling Denis, and Olivia Colman is spot-on as her daughter Carol. Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant make all-too-brief appearances as Geoffrey Howe and Micheal Heseltine.
The film is at its strongest with Streep’s scenes which occur in the heated debates of The House of Commons, and is a brilliant account of one phenomenally tough lower middle-class woman’s triumphs, in a world dominated by men.
It really is a superb, and deeply moving film, made infinitely better with the sublime Meryl Streep.
Rating: * * * *