Uncommon in the House

It wasn’t just her free-market,rightist policies or her tough crackdown on trade unions that made her such a polarising figure in British politics.

Written by Shalini Langer | Published: March 3, 2012 12:23 am


Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Cast: Meryl Streep,Jim Broadbent,Alexandra Roach,Olivia Colman

Rating: ***1/2

As you see the lone woman in a blue dress sandwiched between all the men in black in the House of Commons,you realise what role Margaret Thatcher carved for herself,and where. It wasn’t just her free-market,rightist policies or her tough crackdown on trade unions that made her such a polarising figure in British politics. In this film,it was also the fact that these came from a woman who openly challenged that others didn’t have the guts to stand for principles the way she did.

Tough decisions such as those invite questions and criticism,tough decisions such as those also leave room for self-doubt in retrospect. It’s this creeping sense of self-doubt that The Iron Lady captures in Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century and one of its most successful,if controversial,leaders even as old age and dementia eat away at her physically. “Were you happy,Dennis?” she asks her loyal,loving but overshadowed husband,almost beseechingly,not really wanting him to answer.

Should the “daughter of a grocer” who made her way into politics on sheer force of will and stayed there on strength of her convictions be portrayed thus is a question that has been plaguing The Iron Lady since the film was released. It is shocking to see an ailing and lonely Thatcher imagining conversations with a dead husband and replaying old family films into the night. Others have asked if it was right to have turned Thatcher into a feminist icon.

However,in the end,these are unfair questions for a film attempting one way of looking at That-cher. The Iron Lady is as much about Thatcher’s present as her past,giving us a touching portrait of where Maggie came from and where she star-ted: an earnest young woman with high ideals,few means and the stren-gth to overlook sniggers,who was told to be less screechy-voiced and to do something about her hair. And Broadbent is as loyal a companion as a woman in power could wish for.

It is Thatcher’s years in power that the film is a little dodgy on,touching on every big incident that shook her prime ministership,from the Brighton bombing to the miners’ strike and the Falklands War to her taxation policy,with stock footage and passing shots of a Margaret in doubt but full authority. We don’t get a real idea of the Thatcher in power except the Thatcher in control. Screenwriter Abi Morgan knows though how to bridge those gaps in our understanding. As Thatcher tells the doctor checking her for dementia,“These days,it’s all about how people are feeling. Not what they are thinking… Ask me what I am thinking.”

Perhaps Thatcher then wouldn’t want people to judge her on what she felt when she let eight IRA prisoners starve to death on a hunger strike rather than give in,or when she let a ship with 300 Argentinians be sunk because she saw that country as the aggressor. It was right on the matter of principles,she said.

The Iron Lady — shouldered by a magnificently self-effacing and nuanced Streep,conveying a woman who at times sees everything and at others is gloriously blind — evokes that iron in that lady. It may be a bit rusted,a little bent,need some reinforcement,but there is no questioning that iron.


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