PG-13? How?! It's got full-frontal nudity and in a quasi-sexual context. It has actual footage of a guy getting trampled by police officers on horse. What? I mean, I get it is history, but that doesn't mean that it is appropriate for all children over thirteen. I promise you, if I showed that film in my class, I would get in a lot of trouble. There's some mild language as well, so keep that in mind. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Phyllida Lloyd
Oh mercy, I don't want to write this. I know that I won't finish another movie tonight, so I really don't have to write. But I also know that procrastination doesn't do anyone good. I probably won't finish this blog entry either, which doesn't exactly leave me inspired to knock this out. But who knows? Maybe this lovely cup of tea will provide a muse for a blog about the Margaret Thatcher biopic. I mean, it's not like I don't have anything to say about it.
Before I really get into it, I have to admit that I did some Googling. For the entire film, I wondered what this movie had to say about Margaret Thatcher. For all of my hippie dippie liberalism that I've embraced since the beginning of the Trump administration, I have a woefully outdated understanding of the subject of the film and the subsequent Thatcherism that accompanied her time in office. Much of it came from an alcoholic professor from my brief stint at Oakland University. Aggressively Irish, this professor would find ways to get off-topic and rail against Thatcher, regardless of subject matter in the class. A demon in his eyes, I got the notion that she was the devil's own puppet. This same professor would make me give him rides home from class. It was never made clear what forced him to bum rides from students-slash-only-me, but I simply shorthanded it to the notion that he had too many DUIs when it could have been something as innocuous as a seizure disorder or something. We would make small talk on those painfully long drives to his home and I pretended like I could hold my own when it came to talking about Margaret Thatcher. I was able to hold my own when it came to British cinema, especially political or war films considering that I had seen more than my peers. But his influence over who I thought Thatcher was clouded every interaction after that point. It's not that I thought that he was necessarily right. I was naively conservative during that time. But like Ronnie Reagan, she was someone you loved or hated.
So I had to Google what the point of this movie was. While the movie seems to be loving of this woman --not wholly, but overall --it seems odd that someone like Meryl Streep would paint the former prime minister in such a sympathetic light. It's not like the movie is a hatchet job, tearing apart what Thatcher spent a decade forming. But instead, it shows the nobility of a woman who seems to have lacked basic empathy. It's more about the notion of a woman who did pull herself up from her bootstraps (an issue that creates a toxic personality given time and distance) fighting the good fight in a patriarchal society. It's the story of an anti-feminist feminist, who knew that men were dismissive of women but didn't view privilege as something that existed. If anything, like most movies where the subject is beloved, the trial becomes slightly about how the subject was right, despite everyone saying that she was wrong. But even that is an oversimplified read of the events of the movie. Maybe it is in that complication that bias is removed. There are times that the film seems to swear that Margaret Thatcher was the greatest prime minister since Churchill and other times where she's given the short end of the stick when it comes to societal change. As one of my resources states (and I paraphrase), "For a movie so entrenched in politics, it's odd how apolitical it is."
It's really weird. This movie almost should have been about someone else. Maybe I'm showing my own bias saying that a movie should have taken a stance on Thatcher that was a bit more biting or loving. At least there would be something to say. But the real takeaway is the the fact that death comes for us all. By the way, Thatcher doesn't die. But she is in that liminal state. She was this powerhouse of a personality (at least in this version compared to Gillian Anderson's take on The Crown) is simply a living echo of the past. The notion that death comes for us all is reflected in the sadness of waning mortality. Her past is defined and recontextualized by her present, a woman who is haunted by the hallucinations of her husband. As a ghost, Denis is both loving and cruel. He is perhaps a version of Denis who never really existed. Because it is a biopic, we get all of these flashbacks to juxtapose who she was versus who she is now, but that might not be the point of the story. I railed against Spencer for defining Diana only by her illness. But I might actually call for The Iron Lady to emulate a movie that hadn't existed yet.
There's only one scene that really shows the problems that Thatcher really had. It's a scene where her own conservative party call for a little bit of empathy to the poor. In that moment, she berates her staff, especially those closest to her. The whole thing that many conservatives run into today is echoed in this scene. I'll use the example of the college loan forgiveness that has recently passed and the controversy that accompanied it to illustrate. Thatcher, mad that she came from little and as a woman, finds her own success to be something that is universal. Instead of wishing for the opportunities that she was blind to influence her choices, she sees everyone else looking for handouts that she didn't have. I mean, I see the point. The point of view is miniscule and somewhat heartless, but I get it. It's in this moment that we see the seeds of her own downfall. But that isn't something that is necessarily conveyed throughout the piece. In fact, the more progressive voices in this movie are regularly seen as stodgy and out-of-touch with the common man, which makes them, to a degree, villainous. (By the way, for those playing the "How responsible is the blogger game?", this is where I ran out of time.) It's almost like The Iron Lady is shackled by the formula of biopics.
The biopic has a script, you know. I've commented on this before. Sometimes it's harder to see than others, but most movies keep hitting the same buttons. With The Iron Lady, I really do believe that the filmmakers want to give a maligned character in history a fair shake. As much as Oliver Stone hated George W. Bush, W. never hit levels of absurdism when it came to its critiques of its subject matter. In both The Iron Lady and W., there's this attempt to be fair. It makes the voice of the author appear objective. I think The Iron Lady strays too far on that front. To make Thatcher appear to be the woman who may have lost her way, it has to make her seem heroic at moments. And I will grant that Thatcher had genuine wins in her career. But to make her seem heroic, she needs a villain. And the villain, in this case, is the collective group of progressive minded politicians, often encapsulated by a hobbit-like bald man with glasses who harrumphs his way through the movie. Now, imagine that you are me way before today, the Tim who voted for George W. Bush twice. Got it? I watch The Iron Lady and I view it exclusively as a celebration of her life and career. It would never dawn on me that she wasn't empathetic. At worst, I would see that she was tired of having to fight off men and she lost her cool with them once inappropriately. But that is a generous read for the movie. Yeah, I want to be about her dealing with failing mental health. Yeah, I want it to be about the roles of women. But I also don't want it to be blah.
And I almost lean that the movie may be political and that Meryl Streep has weirder politics than I thought possible. The movie starts off with Thatcher escaping her residence and buying groceries in a bodega. Surrounded by ethnicities painted in antagonistic lights, it implies that maybe Margaret was right about her isolationist attitudes. And I can see that the director might just be using the contrast between the bodega and the grocery store of her past as Thatcher's perspective on the weakness of contemporary Britain, but it doesn't read that way. It actually implies that she was right, which is horrifying because slums existed in yesteryear as well. The movie is dangerous because it must be watched with a critical eye, which is something that most movies don't require. Heck, the reason that I do it is because I know that I'm going to write too many words about every movie I see. So I'm left with the movie being one of two things. 1) This is a celebration of Conservative values, implying that England has lost her way without the eponymous Iron Lady or 2) this is an irresponsible movie that lacks clarity all of the sake of a solid performance by Meryl Streep.
I'm ashamed that I fall back to an intimate knowledge of Smallville where Lex quotes someone, and I paraphrase "So its either that I appear evil or I appear incompetent? I'll take evil any day."
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.