Does the movie earn the title? It’s an interesting thing, a title. Really, it’s just a shorthand reference to the piece itself. Often, however, it takes on its own importance and is evocative of something. People will quibble about a title and call it good or bad. I’m sure there’s a school of thought on the subject, probably even dissertations devoted to it. Just now, I can’t think that it matters that much. Dennis? Maybe the title should be Who the Ruddy Hell Is Dennis? Not quite as pithy. But it would be more representative of the piece than The Iron Lady (2011).
Margaret Roberts (Alexandra Roach…how unfortunate a name) is the daughter of a political shop keeper father and emotionally absent mother. So she gets into politics. Then she marries Dennis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd). Eventually, she becomes old and Meryl Streep plays her. Actually, more often than not, she is incredibly old and is hounded by the ghost of Jim Broadbent. Is that it? Back and forth through time to see vignettes of her résumé and her as a very old person who shuffles around. She runs for parliament, loses, then wins, then becomes leader, then is hated, then goes to war, then the economy rebounds, then her minions get sick of how bossy she is, she resigns, and she becomes old and shuffles around.
Tip from the top: if you come across an irony in your story telling—namely that your focus is on a family life that didn’t really exist—then you should stop there and rethink your approach. This movie is exactly like—exactly like—J. Edgar (2011). Both do have some leeway in that they aren’t titled Hoover or Thatcher and as such presume to tell the story of these people, but both split the baby in half and tell us nothing.
First of all, these people’s private lives are just that and if you want to make a movie about what you think are their personal demons, etc. then you should make it fiction but close, like Primary Colors (1998). That way, some other person, someone more in touch with politics and foreign affairs, can take over the important subjects later. We’ve been spoiled, ladies and whats-its, by The Queen (2006) and The Deal (2003) with movies that actually take on the subject matter head on and do a damn fine job of it.
That’s really the mark of an incapable movie—the focus on feelings. Interestingly, Thatcher does a bit on feelings in this movie. Too bad they didn’t internalize that speech. A biopic should be a biography. Once that’s settled, then we can move onto supposition and opinion. We can see the shuffler side of the story live, but the history bits need some narrative editing and jazzing up. Sure, I can go to the Wikipedia page if I want a history lesson. That’s true. But if that’s the defense, then you can’t pack five minutes of tape with an entire war, now can you.
What a movie can do is humanize the characters involved. How many people are easily identifiable in this movie other than Thatcher, her husband, and her daughter? I picked up Edward Heath (John Sessions) and Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant). Maybe if we spent less time going back to the present day…gee, that sounds familiar…we could actually dig in. It’s like a newsreel in here. Come on Abi Morgan.
Streep an amazing Thatcher? Yeah, I guess so. But the writing failed her completely. It was stuck between actual emotion and biography and decided to sit down and bark out some facts at us.
I was so out of sympathy with the intention of this movie (if there was one), I’m not sure that I can comment on the production. I didn’t want the hallucinations to continue, so noticing whether they were well done or not is difficult. Was it cheesy because I didn’t buy the bit or did I not buy the bit because it was cheesily done? Both, I think. As far as music is concerned, it all seemed a little conspicuous to me. It didn’t move with the action, but rather was dropped in because either (a) the lyrics matched the moment or (b) because it’s a pretty classical tune.
The real question is, does Margaret Thatcher really like The King and I or is that Phyllida Lloyd’s preference?