The Only Way is Maggie?

Watching “The Iron Lady” in the East Finchley Phoenix was always going to have a particular resonance. Cheekily the programmers treated us to a short pre-film reminiscence from a local man explaining how one of the last acts of the (Thatcher abolished) GLC was to grant the necessary money to save the much-loved cinema from sale to the highest bidder. Wry grins all around to complement our coffee and delicious cake. However that was the afternoon’s high point.

The film’s much discussed framing device where the ageing and confused ex-Prime Minister looks back at her life through the distorted prism of her own memories is fundamentally flawed. Margaret Thatcher is simply too controversial a figure for this inherently limiting approach to work dramatically since there can be no contrast. We see nothing of the impact of Thatcherism other than people protesting; there is absolutely no alternative. Even IRA bombings are presented as somehow underpinning the correctness of Thatcher’s premiership. In this version the only people who are seen to be actually hurt by her actions are her daughter, Carol (beautifully played by Olivia Colman) and Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head, unexpectedly moving). Jim Broadbent’s playing of Dennis Thatcher is frustratingly poorly directed. Is he showing that Dennis too has suffered for her ambition; is he comic relief or perhaps Greek chorus; or simply Mr. Exposition?

The publicity for this film has repeatedly emphasised that it is a personal rather than a political story, even if we accept that premise this film is woefully shallow in its checklist approach to British history. Every screen cliché is in evidence including far too many television news montages: Brixton in flames, the bombed Grand Hotel at dawn, soldiers yomping across theFalklands, Poll Tax protestors being charged down inTrafalgar   Square. Meryl Streep, whose physical transformation in the central role is stunning, has described how she sees parallels with the story of King Lear. I would love to see Streep’s Lear but this film is not that.

The film’s join-the-dots score was a perfect demonstration of how not to: jingoistic, hammy and utterly clichéd; the music used for the ‘Sink the Belgrano’ moment could have been taken from a particularly unsubtle 1940’s propaganda film. Even the sole aural highpoint (Not Sensible’s “I’m in love with Maggie Thatcher”) is used over such a radiant montage that I wasn’t certain that the film’s makers grasped the song’s irony. At least Thatcher’s final exit fromDowning Street, complete with a tragic operatic aria and red rose petals crushed under foot (no really!) was laugh out loud funny.

For anyone else who enjoys this film as little as I did can I suggest a game to take your mind off it? The person responsible for extras casting clearly had a sense of humour as I counted at least three David Cameron look-alikes in different scenes, perhaps it’s just that he is the living embodiment of Tory smug but it did help to keep my indignation from boiling over.



  1. Cam Ross
    Jan 10, 2012

    Excellent – you have saved me the price of a ticket and the journey. Thank you. C.

  2. Anna
    Jan 10, 2012


  3. Donna
    Jan 10, 2012

    Your Moulin rouge then!

  4. Sue Baker
    Jan 10, 2012

    Sorry but like her or not, there’s something disturbing about portraying someone who is still alive as a senile old fool. It’s hard to imagine that any PM who has followed her will ever generate such passions, for or against. Having said that, the recent reports of Blair’s ‘tax avoidance’ measures could depict mass indignation, should anyone ever make the film, which seems unlikely.

  5. Alvina
    Jan 20, 2012

    I too was disappointed in the film. I felt it was not a presentation of politics but rather conjecture of one suffering from one of our most incurable and debilitating diseases. Were it not for the other political characters MT could have been anyone of thousands of sufferers. I went to see the film with a friend whose mother is in the early stages of dementia and she found it sad and disturbing by association.

    Off to see War Horse tonight – I’ll take my hankie

    • knowingd
      Jan 20, 2012

      I listened to the View from the aisle seat and haven’t gone to see it. I think I may wait until it’s out on DVD – too many problems with it I think. As the mother of a child of the Thatcher era I also feel ripples of what was set down in her time in office – and those ripples are not soft and gentle!
      Let us know if War Horse was a one, two or more tissue movie!

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