For the first time, I took advantage of being at home in the middle of the day and went to the cinema on Wednesday. The film that inspired me to do so was one about possibly the most controversial British politician of my lifetime. Venerated, in quite a scary way, actually, by the right, loathed with a passion by the left.
So, it’s fair to say that there’s no love lost between me and Mags to put it mildly.
I’d read that the film was more about her Dementia than her record as Prime Minister. I also knew that Thatcher is a lot more popular in the USA than she is here. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing her portrayed in a sympathetic light but felt strangely compelled to see the film. I fully expected to come out of the cinema raging.
I hadn’t, foolishly, taken the talents of Meryl Streep into account, though. I always knew she was versatile. I mean, anyone who can pull off the harrowing Sophie’s Choice, the imperious Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, and be a credible Donna in Mamma Mia is undoubtedly a talented actress. And now, in the same film, she plays both an inflexible, unlistening, head of Government, surrounded by men who often reluctantly do her bidding, who thinks nothing of sinking a ship that’s sailing away from the theatre of war and an old lady coping with the disorientation of Dementia, living an isolated life, surrounded by women who care for her. In the flashbacks, Streep has that clarity and conviction in her eyes. In the portrayal of the older Thatcher, her eyes have confusion in them. It’s incredible.
We see the very young Thatcher (played by Alexandra Roach) patronised by men as she tries to win selection for a Tory seat. Her background as a grocer’s daughter and her gender are clearly holding her back and there’s a telling scene where she’s sent off with the ladies after a dinner. Every woman in politics has gone through something like this at some point. For most of us it makes encouraging other women a priority. For Thatcher, it seemed to breed resentment to come out much later.
For every scene that induced anger – the Falklands, the refusal to depart from her Monetarist policies, the miners’ strike, her intransigence over the poll tax, there was another immediately afterwards which made you laugh at Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of Dennis, or marvel at Michael Pennington’s brief but pretty much spot on scenes as Michael Foot. Streep invokes sympathy for the older Thatcher, widowed, alone and confused. Without giving too much away, there are a couple of really mawkish scenes but, blow me, was there not a tear in my eye? I really must try and toughen up a little.
Streep’s portrayal of the present day Thatcher is based on assumptions and a good script, not actual fact. Even so, it feels intrusive, a bit close to the bone, to be watching something like that while she’s still alive. I actually found myself agreeing with David Cameron on that point.
It was an excellent film that evoked strong emotions in me – the old anger stirred within my breast, shall we say, but I also felt sympathy for the strange and disorientating world a Dementia sufferer inhabits. For one person to get across confidence and clarity and confusion and grief within one film and one character was amazing and Streep would be a worthy winner of the Best Actress Oscar.