The Iron Lady (film)
|The Iron Lady|
British cinema poster
|Directed by||Phyllida Lloyd|
|Produced by||Damian Jones|
|Written by||Abi Morgan|
Richard E. Grant
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Edited by||Justin Wright|
UK Film Council
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox (U.K.)
The Weinstein Company (U.S.A.)
Icon Productions (Australia)
|Running time||104 minutes|
The Iron Lady is a 2011 British biographical film based on the life of Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013), the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of the 20th century. The film was directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Thatcher is portrayed primarily by Meryl Streep, and, in her formative and early political years, by Alexandra Roach. Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher, is portrayed by Jim Broadbent, and by Harry Lloyd as the younger Denis. Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, is portrayed by Anthony Head.
While the film was met with mixed reviews, Streep's performance was widely acclaimed, and considered to be one of the finest of her career. She received her 17th Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal and ultimately won the award, 29 years after her first win. She also earned her third Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama award (her eighth Golden Globe Award win overall), and her second BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
The film begins circa 2008 (opening against the backdrop of news of the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing) with an elderly Lady Thatcher buying milk unrecognized by other customers and walking back from the shop alone. Over the course of three days we see her struggle with dementia and with the lack of power that comes with old age, while looking back on defining moments of her personal and professional life, on which she reminisces with her (now-dead) husband, Denis Thatcher, whose death she is unable to fully accept. She is shown as having difficulty distinguishing between the past and present. A theme throughout the film is the personal price that Thatcher has paid for power. Denis is portrayed as somewhat ambivalent about his wife's rise to power, her son Mark lives in South Africa and is shown as having little contact with his mother, and Thatcher's relationship with her daughter Carol is at times strained.
In flashback we are shown Thatcher's youth, working in the family grocery store in Grantham, listening to the political speeches of her father, whom she idolised – it is also hinted that she had a poor relationship with her mother, a housewife – and announcing that she has won a place at the University of Oxford. She remembers her struggle, as a young lower-middle class woman, to break into a snobbish male-dominated Tory party and find a seat in the House of Commons, along with businessman Denis Thatcher's marriage proposal to her. Her struggles to fit in as a "Lady Member" of the House, and as Education Secretary in Edward Heath's cabinet are also shown, as are her friendship with Airey Neave (later assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army), her decision to stand for Leader of the Conservative Party and eventual victory, and her voice coaching and image change.
Further flashbacks examine historical events during her time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after winning the 1979 general election including the rising unemployment related to her monetarist policies and the tight 1981 budget (over the misgivings of "wet" members of her Cabinet – Ian Gilmour, Francis Pym, Michael Heseltine, and Jim Prior), the 1981 Brixton riot, the 1984–1985 UK miners' strike and the bombing in Brighton of the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, when she and Denis were almost killed. We also see (slightly out of chronological sequence) her decision to retake the Falkland Islands following the islands' invasion by Argentina in 1982, the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano and Britain's subsequent victory in the Falklands War, her friendship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and emergence as a world figure, and the economic boom of the late 1980s.
By 1990, Thatcher is shown as an imperious but aging figure, ranting aggressively at her cabinet, refusing to accept that the Community Charge (the "Poll Tax") is regarded as unjust, even while it is causing riots, and fiercely opposed to European Integration. Her deputy Geoffrey Howe resigns after being humiliated by her in a cabinet meeting, Heseltine challenges her for the party leadership and her loss of support from her cabinet colleagues leaves her little choice but to reluctantly resign as Prime Minister after 11 years in office. A teary-eyed Margaret exits 10 Downing Street for the last time as Prime Minister with Denis comforting her. She is shown as still disheartened about it almost twenty years later.
Eventually, Thatcher is shown packing up her late husband's belongings, and telling him it's time for him to go. Denis's ghost leaves her as she cries that she actually is not yet ready to lose him, to which he replies "You're going to be fine on your own... you always have been" before leaving forever. She is finally shown in her kitchen, alone, contentedly washing a teacup (a wifely role she had told Denis she would never accept), having finally overcome her grief.
- Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
- Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher
- Harry Lloyd as young Denis
- Iain Glen as Alfred Roberts
- Olivia Colman as Carol Thatcher
- Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe
- Nicholas Farrell as Airey Neave
- Richard E. Grant as Michael Heseltine
- Susan Brown as June - Margaret Thatcher's live-in carer
- Martin Wimbush as Mark Carlisle
- Paul Bentley as Douglas Hurd
- Robin Kermode as John Major
- John Sessions as Edward Heath
- Roger Allam as Gordon Reece
- David Westhead as Reg Prentice
- Michael Pennington as Michael Foot
- Angus Wright as John Nott
- Julian Wadham as Francis Pym
- Nick Dunning as Jim Prior
- Pip Torrens as Ian Gilmour
- Ronald Reagan (archive footage) as himself
- Reginald Green as Ronald Reagan
Filming began in the UK on 31 December 2010, and the film was released in late 2011.
In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action. Extensive filming took place at the neogothic Manchester Town Hall, which is often used as a location double for films which feature the Houses of Parliament because of its architectural similarity.
Streep said: "The prospect of exploring the swathe cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge. I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses – I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own."
It is suggested in the film that Thatcher had said goodbye to her friend Airey Neave only a few moments before his assassination, and had to be held back from the scene by security officers. In fact, she was not in Westminster at the time of his death and was informed of it while carrying out official duties elsewhere.
The Labour Party leader Michael Foot is depicted as a critic of the decision to send a task force to the Falkland Islands, and Thatcher is shown admonishing him in the wake of Britain's victory over Argentina. In fact, Foot supported the decision to send a task force, something for which Thatcher expressed her appreciation.
The Iron Lady received mixed to positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 51% based on reviews from 207 critics, with the consensus: "Meryl Streep's performance as The Iron Lady is reliably perfect, but it's mired in bland, self-important storytelling." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 54 based on 41 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The film's depiction of Thatcher has been criticized by her children, Mark and Carol, who are reported to have said, prior to completion of the film, that "it sounds like some left-wing fantasy." Stuart Jeffries of the British newspaper The Guardian was cautiously optimistic about a non-British actor playing Thatcher. Karen Sue Smith of America Magazine wrote that "by combining the Baroness’s real roles of wife, mother and leader, the film’s portrait of her does what many purported "lives of great men" fail to do—namely, show the person in context, in the quotidian."
The Mail on Sunday reported in August 2011 that some viewers invited to a test screening of the unfinished film were concerned at the film's depiction of Margaret Thatcher's frail health in recent years. This view was also shared in the media subsequent to the film's release. The Daily Telegraph reported in January 2012 that "it is impossible not to be disturbed by [Streep's] depiction of Lady Thatcher's decline into dementia" as part of an article that was headlined: "The Iron Lady reflects society's insensitive attitude towards people with dementia." Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, praising Streep's performance but lamenting that "she's all dressed up with nowhere to go" in a film that cannot decide what it wants to say about Thatcher: "[f]ew people were neutral in their feelings about [Thatcher], except the makers of this picture".
Film review blog Movie Metropolis praised Streep's performance but criticized the lack of depth given to the rest of the story, which seemed to only focus on the glory days of Thatcher's reign.
Despite the film's mixed reviews, Streep's performance in the title role garnered much critical acclaim. Kevin Maher of The Times said: "Streep has found the woman within the caricature." David Gritten in The Daily Telegraph commented: "Awards should be coming Streep's way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself." Xan Brooks of The Guardian said Streep's performance "is astonishing and all but flawless". Critic Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote: "Only an actress of Streep's stature could possibly capture Thatcher's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting." Richard Corliss of Time named Streep's performance one of the Top 10 Movie Performances of 2011.
Streep's portrayal ultimately won her the Academy Award for Best Actress (her 17th nomination and third award overall), as well as several other awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama. The film also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
The Baroness Thatcher herself did not watch the film, nor did her children.
The film grossed $30,017,992 in the USA, plus $84,938,707 outside the USA, for a combined gross of $114,956,699.
- "Soldiers of the Queen"
- "Grocer's Daughter"
- "Grand Hotel"
- "Swing Parliament"
- "Shall We Dance?"
- "The Great in Great Britain"
- "Airey Neave"
- "Discord and Harmony"
- "The Twins"
- "Nation of Shopkeepers"
- "Fiscal Responsibility"
- "Crisis of Confidence"
- "Community Charge"
- "Casta Diva"
- "The Difficult Decisions"
- "Exclusion Zone"
- "Steady the Buffs"
- "Prelude No. 1 in C Major, BWV 846" (Johann Sebastian Bach)
Not included on the soundtrack album or listings although credited among the eight songs at the end of the film is "(I'm In Love With) Margaret Thatcher" by Burnley punk band Notsensibles, which was re-released as a single due to the publicity. The song appears seventy-five minutes into the film, as part of the Falklands War victory celebrations.
Awards and nominations
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013)|
The Iron Lady was released on DVD in the United States and the United Kingdom on 10 April 2012. The special features in the DVD include Making The Iron Lady, Bonus Featurettes, Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher, Battle in the House of Commons, Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits, Denis: The Man Behind the Woman.
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- CD Universe – The Iron Lady (2011).
- The Iron Lady at the Internet Movie Database
- The Iron Lady in the British Film Institute's "Explore film..." database
- For Teachers: The Iron Lady Movie Viewing Worksheets and Tests