Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Iron Lady - film review

An elderly, senile, yet elegant lady does the shopping and then returns home to reminisce the past events with her (dead) husband. Dejecting and magnificent is the recent biography of Margaret Thatcher, masterfully starred as by Meryl Streep (this year’s Oscar for best actress prize winner).

The film’s plot runs as a series of retrospections, bringing back the most important moments of Mrs Thatcher’s (nee Roberts) life, interspersed throughout the daily struggle with dementia and beginnings of Alzheimer.

I cannot tell how reliable the depiction of Ms Roberts’ early life is, but from the film you can learn that upbringing and influence of her father, who ran a grocery, shaped her economic views, instilled extraordinary strength in her and familiarised her with the taste of deprivation. Margaret Roberts looms as a clever, prudent and determined young girl, with good grasp of basic laws of microeconomics. Adolescent Margaret’s way is uphill. She grows up when women are still seen as inferior and many realms of life and social activity are still no-go for the weaker sex. This does not change with years and is best illustrated in the scene when she enter the parliament for the first time. Men’s room is fit for entertainments typical for males, in the bathroom you can see urinals, behind the door with “women” board you would not notice anything else, but a chair and ironing board.

The strength of Mrs Thatcher has its dark sides. Her deeds are marked by obstinacy (refusal to change course). Her belief in the power of entrepreneurship, faith in perfection of the free market, one-sided disapproval of trade unions are slightly naïve, slightly cruel and suggest her perception of economics is over-simplified. If everything was as simple, as in her mind, she would not have become such a controversial figure. The shock therapy she applied to the ailing British economy was painful, but justified. With hindsight we see shock of the first years of her rule when unemployment soared and industrial output plummeted and we the subsequent turnaround. The choices she had to make were difficult and as a prime minister, she would always remain stalwart and unrelenting. She pursued the retrenchment programme despite backlash, put down protesting workers from unprofitable mines. Having slashed expenses for social care, she did not hesitate to spend millions of pounds on the Falklands war, winning which was a matter of honour. Her self-pride and conviction of her own infallibility, combined with not caring about the image, have ousted her from the seat of Tory leader. In her last months of serving as prime minister, Mrs Thatcher is depicted as full-of-herself, cold-hearted manager trying force her own ideas upon others, such as in the case of the community charge, seen by many as unfair and as another move into redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich.

The film is worth seeing not only as a whole work, but also for a few absolutely outstanding scenes.
1. The proposal scene – and Margaret’s speech in which she warns Dennis she would not be a silent wife standing by her husband’s side and would never like to end up washing up a teacup (watch out for the last scene then!).
2. The moment when she pulls out from outside her house to leave for parliament in 1959, and her children scream to ask her to stay, but she, with stone-cold face, sets her car in motion, does not look back and trespasses into the world of politics.
3. The scene when she announces her family she is going to run for a leadership of the Conservative party. Her children, who have always held it against their mother, that her commitment into public life was at the expense of family life, simply leave the kitchen, while her husband, usually supportive, this time does not try to hide his disapproval. Left alone in the kitchen, Mrs Thatcher asks: “When did I lose track of everyone?”. The scene is an unbeatable illustration of traps one can fall into when making a career without taking heed of their near and dear ones.
4. The scene when old Mrs Thatcher visits a doctor and complains that “people do not think anymore, people feel” and sees the shift from thinking to feeling the major cause or how the world looks like. And here I could stop and muse about “think vs. feel”, as it would be a great topic for a separate post.
I try to think and feel as much as I can, mix the two, but at the end of the day thinking takes over…

The film reminded me about my old longing for a politician who would step in to rule Poland, carry out necessary but unpopular reforms, and after four years would step down in disgrace, with support in polls below 5%, but leaving the country healed of its economic woes. With politicians focused on popularity with voters, this will not work…

From psychological perspective, Mrs Thatcher is depicted as tough outside, but it is hard to determine, whether she is equally tough inside. When she writes a letter to mothers of soldiers killed in the Falklands war, the surely shows she remains a sensitive woman, but is she all the time?

And people we meet on our way – are they tough or fragile, do they show their real psyche, or do they pretend. With four combinations:
1. fragile outside, fragile inside,
2. tough outside, tough inside,
3. fragile outside, tough inside,
4. fragile inside, tough outside,
first and second are sincere, third is improbable, but could be typical for mercenary ones who play on other people’s emotions to reach their goals, the fourth is, maybe sadly, more and more often seen. The world we live in makes us act as strong, while inside we may still be weak. It might be only a matter of time when this picture falls apart…

So in life, it is best to strike a healthy balance between toughness and fragility… Did the Iron Lady learn that lesson?

1 comment:

Michael Dembinski said...

A great film, which I've seen twice. Streep is supreme. Incredibly great.

Having lived through the Thatcher years puts a personal spin to it; there was nothing new in the screenwriter's concepts except the brilliant narrative device of using senile dementia as a starting-point for a series of flashbacks that told the story so well.

Among my favourite scenes - the dinner party, where Thatcher suddenly, lucidly, returns to form with a scathing attack on terrorism.