by Joe Shea
AR Film Critic
Jan. 30, 2012
'IRON LADY' DEFIES TIME AND RUST
BRADENTON, Fla., Jan. 30, 2012 -- When a movie starts late in the life of its lead character in a reminiscent mood, that's one thing; when it starts in the character's old age, and the character has Alzheimer's (as in "The Notebook," with James Garner and Gena Rowlands), that's another; and when the aging character is introduced in her old age, and is famous around the globe, nee Roberts, is of the third character.
We meet her chatting with her gentleman and husband, the late Sir Denis Thatcher, a man who is to escape death that would come because of whe she is, only to die for the same reason in the middle of the movie.
"She," of course, is the great Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady" of life and legend and an extraordinary Conservative Party Prime Minister of Britain (1979-1990), whose dream was to put the "Great" back into the country's name in a meaningful way. Thus she led punishing and difficult retrenchments of spending and regulation, and both a fierce, short war and a 300-year-old one. Don't miss the excellent and very thorough wiki on her life at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Thatcher.
As he's her [persistent and half-desired husband (during her hallucinations), his presence before and after his death in 2003 is problematic for the audience and a puzzle to this reviewer, who would think a recurring hallucination pushes the envelope a little further still.
Yet this is a movie of importance, already honored with a very deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep, and winner of the Golden Globes award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. While it was not nominated for the knitting cinematography and editing that brings together the disparate and complex story of her life, I think it should have been. Jim Broadbent's amazing performance as her husband of 45 years also deserves major critical recognition. Whatever the envelopes may bear, it will always be a major film of women's history.
Conservatives are rarely led by women, and when women lead, their sensitivities are often for the poor, the sick and elderly, and the hard-pressed if not oppressed men and women whose labor builds our nations. Indira Ghandi (whom I met in India) epitomized such women even though, unlike Thatcher, a grocer's daughter who graduated from Oxford, was that rare sort of feeling aristocrat; so is the brave and fierce Aung San Suu Kyi of the former Burma (now Myanmar), elected but imprisoned throughout what should have been her term(s); as was Benazir Bhutto (whom I also met), elected and then murdered. Corazon Aquino was a fourth, revolted by the Marcos assassins who murdered her husband (whom I also met) and who then ended the Marcos regime with her leadership of People Power.
Such women, like Benazir and Indira, often face persecution for their compassionate ideas, and both were assassinated; Margaret Thatcher could well have died as she fought the IRA but escaped at least one IRA bomb aimed at her Cabinet. Cory Aquino, who died of cancer two years ago, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, the victim but ultimate victor in an Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) coup plotted by Suharto generals who ultimately President of Indonesia, and the late Siri Bandanaraike, President of Sri Lanka and the former Ceylon, were famously caring women - Bandanaraike, a Socialist, was known as "weeping widow" as the wife of a Prime Minister (who died) and was then elected three times on her own. Margaret Thatcher's career must have been a great inspiration to each of them.
Thatcher, if not for her politics but her near-unique kind of femininity, inspired them with her constructive beliefs, her strong leadership, her opposition to reckless government spending, her triumph over backbiting men in Parliament, and her hard-nosed approach to the Falkland Islands War - almost not fought due to the lack of government funds - and the Irish Troubles.
She never gave an inch or overspent a penny. That made her variously wildly popular and very unpopular, neither of which conditions she really took to heart; they certainly never guided her decision-making.
What is most powerful in this film, or at least as powerful as her personality, is its very poignant sadness. In her long fight with Alzheimer's, she never lost the will, but perhaps never had the self-interest, to bring order to her life.
The movie, with its climactic moments mixed with bomb blasts, losses, treachery (her Conservative Party allies, all men, were as loyal as vipers), tells this story under a shroud of compassionate feeling even her great life cannot cast aside.