Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Iron Lady [2011]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  Roger Ebert (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review -

As a Chicagoan, hence living in the 3rd largest city in the United States with a metropolitan area population of 8-10 million and a long tradition in the arts, theater, science and architecture, the first thing that I'd have to say about The Iron Lady (directed by Phydilla Lloyd, screenplay by Abi Morgan) is that I find it stunning that this movie about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played in her adult and older years by Meryl Streep) certainly one of the best of the year was withheld by movie execs and distributors from Chicago audiences until two weeks into the new year.  This is emblematic of an arrogance by media elites on both coasts that only breeds resentment in self-evidently huge and well-educated media markets in places like Chicago and Atlanta that is really to the movie industry's detriment.

My protest stated, let me then go on to say that I found this film to be excellent and one that could be understood by film audiences on multiple levels not the least of which on a life history / family dynamics one.  For whatever one may think of Margaret Thatcher's politics, the movie asks us to look at her legacy (and really anyone's legacy) from the perspective of her (and again, really everyone's) destiny: We will all grow old and we will all eventually die and the details of the "battles of the past" will fade.  As such, anyone with an aging parent will probably be able to relate to this film.  The parent who seemed so large, so awesome, perhaps so frustrating, so "in the way" when one was younger does get old, does get more feeble, yes, does begin to "fade away."

One could not have been an adult, young adult or even teenager in the English speaking world in the 1980s and into the 1990s without knowing who Margaret Thatcher was.  Yet today, 20-30 years later?  She largely falls into the category of "not yet dead," that is, older, necessarily more reclusive with each passing year, no longer relevant in any serious way except in the context of the past and the past's setting of the stage for our present.

Yes, on a more propagandistic level, some of the lines Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher is given do have a resonance with American political discourse today, notably the movie's Thatcher's concern that Britain would go broke unless it cut its spending, that taxes killed jobs, and that Europe's more social democratic model would not necessarily be appropriate or even beneficial to Britain and its destiny.  These are certainly lines voiced in American political discourse today by many on the Right wing of America's Republican Party today.  Yet, IMHO drawing absolute analogies is almost always a bad idea -- Britain is more European than the United States and the United States is both larger and more diverse and frankly with a different history and a different set of demons than Britain faced in the 1980s and/or faces today.

Perhaps what is more interesting is the film's portrayal of how Margaret Thatcher came to her convictions, and like convictions held by anyone, they came personal/family history -- Margaret Thatcher was born and raised a grocer's daughter (a daughter of a truly small businessman) at a time when doors were opening for women in England (and across the world) which would were unimaginable before.  So the grocer's daughter was able to go to Oxford, something unimaginable to most women (and to most men) of generations previous to hers.

Thus this movie about one of the most political of figures in the latter part of the 20th century becomes (through extended flashbacks) largely about her relationships with her doting and supportive grocer father Alfred Roberts (played by Iain Glenn), her less supportive housewife mother Beatrice (played by Emma Dewhurst) and especially her husband Denis Thatcher (played by Jim Broadbent).  (Margaret and Denis in their younger college/young adult years are played by Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd respectively).  Stopping-in throughout the movie to "look-in on" the aging but still largely but diminishingly independent Margaret Thatcher is her middle-aged daughter Carol Thatcher (played by Olivia Coleman).  What middle-aged adult today could not relate to this kind of reflection on an aging parent or mentor figure?

Thus even though Margaret Thatcher (and certainly Streep's Margaret Thatcher) would resist such humanization of her persona, the film actually makes one appreciative of how the Margaret Thatcher of history came to be, and serves as a reminder to all of us that no matter how powerful or important any of us may become in our prime, we all live on a conveyor belt of time and all of us will eventually fade from this Earth, remembered ultimately only by God.

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