Thursday, March 29, 2012


There is a danger in producing biopics about political figures, especially political figures that remain in the public memory, and especially especially political figures who were polarizing and controversial to begin with. Many of the same mixed comments and reviews that were made about Oliver Stone’s 2008 film W. are again being made about this year’s The Iron Lady, which the Saratoga Film Forum will be screening this evening (Thursday, March 29) and tomorrow (Friday, March 30) at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday at 3 p.m.

The makers of such docudramas likely go into these projects knowing that they just can’t win: half the audience will think it’s celebrating the ideology of the subject of the biopic, and the other half will think it’s a snide satire. As for the third half...well, perhaps they’re the only ones who go in with an open mind.

Still, audiences inevitably bring their own remembrances and political leanings to these types of films, something that normally does not happen if someone were to make a biopic about, say, President Martin Van Buren.

All of which serves to distract attention away from the film as a film and the story as a story. Meryl Streep of course won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Maggie, and as part of her research for the role, she attended Prime Minister’s Questions at the British Parliament, watching current PM David Cameron spar with Labour leader Ed Miliband. She also obviously studied every frame of archival footage of Thatcher, because she gets every nuance dead accurate. 

At heart, the movie is not about adoring or reviling Thatcher, but is rather more interested in looking at how she transcended race and class to become one of the leading figures on the world stage. Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, a fairly humble origin, and in her early years addressing the House of Commons, you can feel the male condescension. Visually, in the film, she stands out as the lone female in a sea of blue suits, the only pair of high heeled shoes amongst the wingtips.

With a screenplay by Abi Morgan (who also wrote Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, a, um, slightly different movie...) and drawing on John Campbell’s definitive biography, The Iron Lady careens back and forth in time to show how Thatcher crashed the Old Boys’ Club.

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