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Review: The Iron Lady

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Mark Kermode | 16:00 UK time, Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Here is my review of The Iron Lady from last Friday's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review show.

Meryl Streep's performance has received much praise, but is the film any good?

Also, if you've seen the film, let me know what you made of it.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Yes Mark, but there are so many interesting things to be said about Mrs Thatcher that they were never going to be adequately covered by one movie. Like you I would have been interested to see more about the politics and issues of her premiership but that's probably because we are roughly the same age and so have a predominant interest in the politics of our young adulthoods. Other people would have like to have seen more from the feminist standpoint or a better treatment of the subject of dementia.

    My greatest problem with the film (whilst admiring the impersonation) was that it took a voyeuristic interest in the suffering through ill health of a living person. If the disease had been cancer rather than dementia, would the film have been made? I find that aspect offensive, and would do whether the subject were famous or not.

  • Comment number 2.

    Brilliant performances from Meryl Streep and Olivia Coleman, but I wasn't sure why there were so many scenes of the elderly and confused Lady Thatcher talking to her cartoon-like departed husband. It perhaps fell between two stools and thus was nowhere near as good as the BBC2 TV film "Margaret" starring Lindsey Duncan.

  • Comment number 3.

    Not even the most hardened Thatcherite could deny that her policies, whether by design or accident, resulted in mass unemployment, poverty, fractured communities, shattered families and individual tragedies (including suicides). As someone who lived through it all I found that offensive. When she said "there is no such thing as society" I think she meant it.
    Any film about Margaret Thatcher which just glosses over all that is simply a work of fiction and that is how I will view The Iron Lady.
    All of that should take nothing away from Meryl Streep's fantastic work.

  • Comment number 4.

    Mark Kermode didn't do too bad out of Thatcher's Britain.

  • Comment number 5.

    I really enjoyed this section of your radio show. As a regular listener I wish it had more of this type of in-depth polemic. It is so much more interesting than the show's ritualised pedantic baton-waving and the interviews with actors and directors, which, more often than not, descends into predictable celebrity sycophancy. Please invite some guests to (civilly) disagree with.

    As for the Iron Lady, if the film is not about politics but about forgetting and old age, then why the did it choose Thatcher as the protagonist in the first place? I can't help feeling that celebrity biopics are a lazy way to get attention to one's film project on account of the subject matter rather than quality.

    I have no intention of seeing the film, for the same reason I'm not interested in Oliver Stone's W. The film is a generation too early, as the memories are still too fresh. Why would I pay money to see a film about cringeworthy politicians who would make me change the channel as soon as possible every time they appeared on TV? I did watch Stone's Nixon because his career was before my time, an enviable era when politicians weren't pre-packaged and didn't dominate the news 24/7. In a perverse way I actually liked Nixon (the film, not the man).

  • Comment number 6.

    I am going to give this film a wide miss. I know your stance Mr Kermode on not commenting on a film you have not seen, but I am not doing that. I am in fact going to say I am bored of this recent trend of films where Actors are now doing 'impressions' of other famous figures and being congratulated on such sterling performances.

    Will Smith (Ali), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn), Joaquin Pheonix (Walk The Line) etc, shall I go on?

    (Yes I will, Jamie Foxx - Ray)

    I have seen the trailer and, from that I will say, Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for this about as much as John Culshaw does.

  • Comment number 7.

    This is like making a Hitler biopic and saying 'Right, well, we'll start by leaving out the Holocaust'. I'd love to see Loach's take.

  • Comment number 8.

    Mark; a little off topic (and assuming you read all the postings on this site)--I have just finished reading your The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex and greatly enjoyed it. Numerous passages marked for future teaching reference (I teach Film/Media Studies at the University of Waikato in New Zealand). In respect of your plea that more attention should be paid to the distribution and exhibition of local cinema, take a look at my website, to see what I am attempting to do for the local in New Zealand.

  • Comment number 9.

    it's not a no holds barred heavyweight political biopic of thatcher, if you want that there are plenty of books on both sides of the agument about thatchers effect on britain (coming from the welsh valleys you can guess my opinion). That asside does it really have anything to say about the woman herself, is it a film about the most powerful and influencial woman in britain since budica, if it was about jane smith from swansea would it be a different film?

  • Comment number 10.

    Instead of being about a frail old lady being told off for wondering off to the local cornershop - This should have been give the Malcom X or The Last Emperor treatment and been a 3 hour epic. We are of course talking about the most powerful woman of her many of generations, where people talk about the Thatcher years like a war where they mildly rejoice in the fact that they got through it.

    Her achievements deserved better.

  • Comment number 11.

    I`m afraid i wont be seeing it as the mention of her name causes my blood pressure to rocket. I agree that a biopic of Thatcher without the politics is like a biopic of Santa without talking about Christmas. Santa is Christmas Thatcher is Politics with a capitol P. I hope it has her attempt to stop the BBC from broadcasting Nelson Mandelas 70th birthday celebrations from Wembley Stadium because in her words he was a convicted terrorist. Or the time she voted against sanctions against the Nazi all white South African goverment when all 50 other commonwealth countries voted for,saying they were ALL wrong. But my favourite is her attempt to protect and befriend Pinoche when under house arrest for extradition for crimes against humanity. Crimes like murdering a democratically elected president,cutting the fingers and toes off trade unionists then throwing them out of airplanes into the South Atlantic Ocean.I doubt inconvenient truths are in their though .

  • Comment number 12.

    I totally agree with tel-x.
    She is a real figure who did real and very controversial things, this film tries to manipulate us, by glossing over her actions and presenting her as a person to pity. I really resent this. You cannot present her as a character without representing her political actions and their consequences. If you're not going to do that, then why make a film about her at all?

    The scenes of Thatcher's ill-health and vulnerability are offensive, and not just because of the insensitivity and voyeurism they represent, but also because in trying to 'humanise' her, they are also trying to make us more sympathetic to her. She is to be judged by her actions not by how sorry we would naturally feel for anyone suffering this illness.

    I also think any attempt to portray thatcher as a feminist is wrong-headed. I don't think Thatcher was a feminist, she was interested in personal power, but she did nothing for women during her terms in government, nor did she promote or encourage other female politicians. To portray her as a feminist icon is therefore inappropriate. It's her personal underdog story, but it isn't a feminist story.

    Luckily when I went to see this, we were the only people in the cinema, which was a relief because we could yell at the screen.

  • Comment number 13.

    What could have been a brave biopic ended up being a pointless film that takes a charismatic political figure that is reviled and loved by many and turned her into a one-dimensional character in a hilarious inept picture. You just cannot separate Thatcher from politics, and when politics do arise we get comments like Cameron being a smoothy, a sickening moment in cinema. Other than that there really isn't enough to get upset over, a terrible film that cannot be saved by Streep no matter how predictably brilliant she is.

    The sole highlight for me was the first unintentional belly laugh of the year. What should be a point of great drama and meaning ends up with Jim Broadbent emerging from a dusty room, crying "my shoes" with exploded shoes in hand. How I laughed, it’s one of those moments which jumps into my head every now and again that makes me laugh out of the blue. That's right; The Iron Lady turned me into one of those bus nutters!

  • Comment number 14.

    Tel-X How can you compare Thatcher to Hitler, there are plenty of powerful figures in world history, and you pick a person who committed genocide.

    Whatever your views you middle aged to old folks think of Thatcher, that comment is offensive.

    She was democratically elected three times, even though Murdoch gave her positive publicity in the newspapers, the general public did have chance to vote the other way, but they didn't.

    So what ever your left wing/socialist thoughts of her, the public back in the 70s/80s thought differently.

    When Labour came in to power, things didn't change, the manufacturing industry died, much like the coal industry did back in the 80s, people lost their homes, and instead of the IRA, or the Falklands, we now had an illegal war because of 9/11 and islamaphobe thanks to the right wing press, boom and bust, and then the economic collapse.

    So now we're back to square one, where the Tories have come back in, and tightening the screws again, and people are complaining because they can't afford to buy the latest iphone, or the brand new trainers.

    We were a consumerist society in the 80s, and it's never left. The Thatcher/Tories/Labour are not to blame, we are to blame, because we chose to become a materialistic society.

  • Comment number 15.

    I enjoyed the film very much, mainly because of Meryl Streep's amazing performance however the film isn't about Margaret Thatcher, it's instead about getting old, using Margaret Thatcher as a metaphor, showing that you can be the most powerful and significant person in the country but you still end up the same as everyone else in the end. I found the film told this perfectly as bits of the film reminded exactly of my Grandma which I found very moving and difficult to watch in some places.

    My problem is that I'm 15 and I wanted to see a film about Margaret Thatcher and learn about the effect she had on people. Did I get that? No. Did I still like the film? Yes. Would I have liked it more if the film had been made differently? I don't know, the film failed to answer that particular question...

    By the way, I find your comments about Phyllida Lloyd a bit harsh because (and I am ashamed to say it) I really like Mamma Mia.....

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry to be pedantic Stuart but Mrs T was never "democratically elected" - she was electd by first past the post which is not necessarily the same thing. So, for example, in 1979 the Tories got 43.9% of the vote but that gave them 53.4% of the seats in Parliament. Meanwhile Labour and the Liberals got 50.7% of the vote yet that gave them only 44.1% of the seats. Go figure, as our US cousins might say.
    Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that you cannot do a film about someone as controversial as Thatcher and just gloss over those controversies. It's disrespectful to all sides. If you just want to do a film about ageing and how the mighty fall when Old Father Time catches up why chose Thatcher, especially when she is still alive.
    As for Michael White's assertion that this is a "feminist movie" - cleary that could only have been written by a man!

  • Comment number 17.

    When are the Kenner Action Figures coming out? I'm sure the Houses of Parliment playset will the next Tracy Island hit toy for christmas 2012. "Relive all your favourite debates with exciting action sounds!!", " New for Summer Combat Maggie, tank not included"

  • Comment number 18.

    Marnk, you really can't handle the fact that Margert Thatcher being portrayed as anything other than a 15 foot high glowing red demon with horns can you?

  • Comment number 19.

    Agree with 16/Hoomach -- but to add to 14/Stuart, I'm not making the comparison, but Hitler was democratically elected, so that part of your argument is weak. You can't blame all the actions of politicians on the electorate that voted them in. The Tory government rewarded materialism through their policies, if that was a reflection of the desires of the country, or the carrot that led the country in that direction is neither easy to answer, nor a basis for categorical statements.

    I'm not saying you're wrong, there's points I agree with, but if someone wants to make a comparison between two politicians, both loved and reviled, both who did exactly what they said they would do right or wrong, both who sent troops into unnecessary wars, I'd pretty much chalk it up to their opinion not something to take offence at, particularly in the context of this hotbed of political discussion. Although in the wisdom of one Meghan Fox, wasn't a certain Mr. Bay compared with Adolf? Who here was offended by that?

    Now let's take the question "Was Blair just Thatcher in drag?" Discuss....

  • Comment number 20.

    The rage felt by those who lived through the Thatcher years at the "whitewashing" in The Iron Lady is akin to the rage felt by black Americans at the "whitewashing" in The Help.

    In both cases a significant segment of the viewing public declared that the movies have downplayed the reality of the suffering of the times. And in both cases other viewers who just don't get it (whites, in the case of The Help; those who weren't alive during the Thatcher years, in the case The Iron Lady) have contemptuously dismissed these concerns.

    I think we dismiss the misrepresentation of history at our peril and that moviemakers should be held to a high and ethical standard when they are telling allegedly "true" stories of the suffering of human beings. And there can be no doubt at all that the times depicted in The Help and The Iron Lady involved human suffering on an epic scale.

    My personal view is that Thatcher was not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination and that comparisons to Hitler or Stalin are apt. I have no doubt that if she thought she could have gotten away with rounding people up and putting them in gulags or concentration camps she wouldn't have hesitated for a minute.

  • Comment number 21.

    Mark, just heard your review via the podcast and saw the film on release day. Understand exactly your reservations about it. Meryl Streep hauled it from being a 6/10 film to an 8/10 film but I was still disappointed - far too much 'confused old lady' which I really really hoped would fade out after the first 10 minutes or so and we could get properly stuck into the controversial nitty gritty of 1980s Britain under Thatcher. Alas it was not to be, so I consider it a missed opportunity. A pity as I had long been looking forward to it as a big fan of anything British on the big-non-multiplex-screen.

  • Comment number 22.

    Good film but suffers from typical biopic klunking scenes. 'Thatcher Thatcher - milk snatcher' referenced straight away in opening scene (oh the irony) but even worse was the Maggie giving driving lesson to Carol scene (yeah right) and imploring 'move to the right - over to the right' as we headed towards the eighties.
    Meryl played a blinder but I'm left wondering why Jim Broadbent was not allowed to give full reign to the 'Dear Bill..' type persona that Private Eye so brilliantly caught and instead directed to be a clownish buffoon.

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree with Alina. For example: Thatcher's treatment of the mentally ill during her terms of power was murderously callous. While intitutionalisation was over-used and often ineffective, it does not excuse the fact that she closed those institutions to save money without ensuring the much vaunted 'care in the community' was actually in place. Many vulnerable people were evicted from their home (the only life they had known often for decades) without anything arranged for them to move on to. There was no preparation for life outside an institution, let alone homes or adequate care for their conditions. Many of these people ended up on the streets and hundreds of them died there. Their blood is on her hands.

    'The Iron Lady' sickens me because it tries to manipulate me into feeling pity where she had none.

  • Comment number 24.

    Did the real Margaret Thatcher actually appear at the despatch box wearing that HAT!!!

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm extremely surprised that the huge posters on the London Underground weren't defaced. Surely they were all crying out for a toothbrush moustache?

  • Comment number 26.

    Mark I thoroughly agree with your review.Having lived through Margaret Thatcher's premiership I thought that Meryl Streep's porttrayal was excellent but the film totally lacked substance. The politics pieces were nothing more than window dressing.This film was really about human ageing which was a great pity. It is obviously difficult to encapsulate MT'S complete career but items which should have been included are 1 Pros Cons miner's strike .Conference speech after Brighton Bomb and Geoffrey Howe's resignation cricket bat speech!!!

  • Comment number 27.

    I have not seen the film and i dont want to as she was the start of the manufacturing decline in this country, I wonder if it mentions during the miners dispute how she told the country and the miners there was no pit closure plan, yet here we are with a handfull of mines out of almost 190. Who was telling porkies.

  • Comment number 28.

    Firstly, Mrs T's own family boycotted the film (they know her better than anyone, one would think), as did many American republicans who hated the way she was portrayed as a doddering, dementia-ridden woman. Secondly, it seems to me that her dementia has never been confirmed, so to portray her as such is at best misleading, and at worst an insult. Thirdly, she was a politician first and foremost, and yet her politics - whatever your own personal views on them - barely get a mention in the film. That's like doing a film about Mother Theresa and not mentioning her charity work. Fourthly, it's direced by the same maroon behind Mamma Mia! Fifthly, Meryl Streep plays Mrs T; Meryl Streep???I have never, ever, ever thought of her as being a serious actress; all I see her in is DEATH BECOMES HER and other rubbish. For god sake, if you cannot see that this 'film' is little more than a lefty, parodic diatribe against this iconic figure, you are blind, deaf and dumb. It has the same vitriol behind it as those lefties who famously tweeted that they would throw a party when this woman is dead.

  • Comment number 29.

    I lived through the 1980s... compared to the 1970s (which I also lived through) to me they seemed a brighter decade. The 1970s were horrible. I wonder if the reality of the 1980s was really as dire as they are now being painted by certain people. I certainly wasn't a privilaged person or one who came from a privilaged background. My family were quite poor. However, the 1980s, from my perspective, seemed great at the time after the dull grey 1970s.

    This is not intended as a pro or anti Thatcher statement... just about how the 1980s felt to this person who lived through the decade.

  • Comment number 30.

    You'll never please everybody - like any leader she ended up taking credit or blame for a lot of things which to some extent would have happened anyway, like the decline of manufacturing or the growth of the City.

    A lot of people who lived through the inflation, confiscatory tax (top rate 98%!), power cuts and strikes of the 1970s might think it "offensive" to denigrate Thatcher's tough measures.

    And what a lot of left-wing reviewers, here and elsewhere, whingeing about South Africa (not, with all due respect, the most important political issue of the 1980s for most people) and Thatcher's contempt for the hypocrisy of black African dictators.

    Actually I thought the political treatment - the unpopular economic stuff, the stuff which made her popular (the Falklands, the late 1980s boom) her hubris towards the end - reasonably balanced for such a short film. She was wrong about the poll tax, clearly, but her opposition to the single currency looks more prescient with every passing day.

  • Comment number 31.

    The Iron Lady, certificate 12A, not suitable for miners.

  • Comment number 32.

    Forgetting for a moment the politics and Ms Streep's Thatcher impressions, here is a technical note. Unfortunately we are all used to seeing TV in public places showing short fat footballers in the wrong ratio, but should we be subjected to a feature film showing library footage in the wrong ratio over and over again, as in the Iron Lady? Is this some sort of deliberate "style", in which case what is the rationale? Or is it a simple case of shoddy post production? Did nobody - director, editor, producer, VFX editor, post production supervisor - notice this? Couldn't they tell the difference or couldn't they care less? We should be treated with a little more respect than this and not served up with sloppy technically incompetent images such as these. Shame on the British Film Industry.

  • Comment number 33.

    @Douglas Monk "Did the real Margaret Thatcher actually appear at the despatch box wearing that HAT!!!"

    Certainly not. And there were other women in parliament while Thatcher was there. The film shows all men and her. On the front benches: Gwynneth Dunwoody was in the Labour Shadow Cabinet under Foot and also Jo Richardson, Joan Lester and Ann Clwyd under Kinnock. Plus (from memory) Lynda Chalker and Virginia Bottomley were on Thatcher's front bench.

  • Comment number 34.

    @30 paul turtle

    I`m not a left wing anything! in fact when it come to crime and punishment I`m a bit to the right of Gengis Khan. My point is she sided with the evil and powerful over the weak and the just. She doesnt know the difference between right and wrong and as such is a total failure as a human being.Ambition and attaining power doesnt mean your not worthless!!


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