How does one review history? Or a life, at that?
Unquestionably, Margaret Thatcher was a powerful figure in international politics and her unwavering policies earned both the praise and the ire of many. While she rose to power and did what had to be done during her stint as Britain’s Prime Minister, it was the very same unwavering policies that made her lose her supporters and forced her to relinquish her position as head of Britain’s Conservative Party.
Many people will remember her as being The Iron Lady, forceful, strong, determined and always outspoken–commendable qualities, to be sure–but qualities that can lead to abuse and simple stubbornness. All that considered, the movie present a somewhat surprising and different side of Margaret Thatcher. While the movie represented a period of British history with great clarity and accuracy albeit in a pastiche of memories,
it was not about British politics or British politicians or even about the public life of Margaret Thatcher.
The film began and ended with an old woman who clearly has some difficulty walking. She is faced with the task of clearing out her dead husband’s closets, sorting out clothes and shoes and other bric-a-brac. All told, it takes her a couple of days to complete the task in between a doctor’s appointment and a dinner. The woman has not been able to let go of her husband’s memory and with every object she spies, every person she meets, every photograph or memento she comes across more memories of her husband and her past life rush back. She finds herself talking to her husband who really isn’t there, seeing him lurking in every corner of her life. This quite naturally might have alarmed her doctor or secretary or even her daughter and son, but she gently denies what she is experiencing, putting on a strong and brave facade that belie her confusion, self-doubt and deep feelings of loss. Only when she finally is able to send her husband’s ghost literally and figuratively packing does she finally gather enough strength and courage to complete her task. And then life must go on.
It is this frail, bent, confused, lost old woman that Meryl Streep so masterfully portrays. Despite the brave tilt of the head and determined, albeit handicapped gait, Streep’s Margaret Thatcher is just another aging woman mourning her loss, experiencing confusion and disorientation as a result of loss. Streep shows her audiences a woman not unlike others, who is human and subject to the frailties of the race as she approaches the end of a long, difficult life that has been a battle–nay a war–for all that she thought was right. To the end, she remains obstinate–as the ghost of Denis Thatcher made her state it herself–and in a sad state of denial. We see MT in a completely different light in this film, which highlights her journey from a young unknown grocer’s daughter who was more interested in politics and the public good than a woman of her times would normally have been, to being an MP and eventually the Prime Minister of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Her rise to power was unprecedented in the Western World, and her stance was always what she thought was for the greater good of England. Never mind that she was many times contradicted by her ministers and advisers. She retained her obstinacy and refused to see reason other than hers. When she is finally faced with certain defeat, she chooses to take a graceful exit, although with reservations. This graciousness and control in the face of adversity and emotional turmoil in the face of defeat is not what everyone saw when the real MT stepped down from office. It is the public persona that she consistently displayed that earned her the title of The Iron Lady, no matter what she truly felt inside. And it is Meryl Streep who shows us the woman struggling within, the woman smothered by her beliefs and principles insofar as politics were concerned, so that perhaps only her husband knew who she truly was–and then, again, maybe not.
And thus, may I conclude that I think the film is simply brilliant.
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