I came to this film about former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with baggage.
I grew up in a Yorkshire mining town which had its guts ripped out when she closed the pits.
That’s part of the problem – reviewing the film and not the politics.
Like many people, I wasn’t sure about seeing it. I was worried about it portraying her in a favourable light. I didn’t want to come away finding that I actually liked her.
As it turned out I came away feeling absolutely no different.
But according to the film, it’s not about what you feel, it’s what you think that matters – and I think I’ve just seen a really good film – that’s made me think!
It was an incredibly brave project for director Phyllida Lloyd and, in my view, she got it about right. If she’d taken any different route the film would have lost all credibility.
Much has been made about the fact that the story is told in a series of flashbacks from an old woman struggling with dementia, virtually a prisoner in her own home and living in a world that she barely recognises. Again it’s a very sensitive subject, but I think it worked. Surrounded by memories – and by the ghost of Dennis, who is played superbly by Jim Broadbent – photos, sculptures and conversations with ‘DT’ walk you through the life of a woman who undoubtedly shaped history.
It’s clear from the film that she was an extremely determined and ambitious young woman, who fought her way to the top in a male dominated political world – which I admire. It’s fascinating to see her early thoughts on ‘practical politics’ and watch them and her evolve.
It’s only when you see her years in power condensed that you realise what incredibly turbulent times she presided over. We follow her through the miners’ strikes, riots in Brixton and Toxteth, we see her friend and Northern Ireland spokesman Airy Neeve blown up in the House of Commons car park, the Harrods and Hyde Park IRA bombings, The Falklands War and the Poll Tax riots.
If you come away thinking nothing else, it’s that she must have had balls of steel.
Then there are the little touches – the parts of the film that you might only see on second or third viewing. When she finally leaves Number 10 it’s on a surreal carpet of red petals – walking over the remains of the English Rose to the climax of Madame Butterfly as she hands over her child and ‘falls on her sword’.
Meryl Streep is superb as The Iron Lady. Simply put – Oscar for Streep! And probably one for Broadbent, whose Dennis is the real revelation. I always thought Dennis was bonkers, but the relationship between him and ‘MT’ was fascinating and a real illustration of polar opposites.
I watched the film in Liverpool – it seemed an appropriate place under the circumstances. Afterwards, in the shadow of The Liverbirds I walked through the city and wondered what the world would have been like without Margaret Thatcher. It’s irrelevant now but it does make you think.
By the end we have a portrait of a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s whose battles today are every bit as difficult for her as when she ran the country.
To summarise, when the film is released on DVD, I’m unsure what should accompany it in the box set: ‘Iris’ – the film about Iris Murdoch’s decline into Alzheimer’s, or ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Brassed Off’, which capture the mayhem her uncompromising policies had on the lives of ordinary people.
But maybe that’s the beauty of this intelligent and thought-provoking film.