When Margaret Thatcher saw the film The Iron Lady she wept for the painful memories of her time in office, and not for her dead husband, and her own confused old age, which are what the film deals with to the nth degree. Thatcher's being was that of an ideological politician and we saw her instead as a wife to the funny, supportive Dennis (especially endearing when young and played by Harry Lloyd with his charming smile). It was as if they had done a film about, say, Muhammad Ali and after a quick run through his rise to fame and a lot on his marriage and Parkinson's disease had touched briefly on his boxing matches. There was another twentieth century British prime minister who had a vision of how Britain should be reformed, and whose policies changed Britain considerably. He was also happily married - but if anyone was inspired (unlikely I know) to make a film about Clement Attlee, there would be ten minutes or so of his relationship with his devoted wife.
The film became a love story - an Everyman's love story, for those of the population who grow old together, until one dies and the other is left to decay alone. As a love story and a picture of the body and mind fading and falling, it was mildly touching. Olivia Coleman was brilliant as Carol Thatcher. With one slight expression she can look concerned and hurt - the look of the dutiful daughter always passed over for the negligent brother in her mother's affections.
Everyone agrees that Meryl Streep was stupendous in the role of the former PM and she will be buckling under the weight of the awards she will receive for her performance. She did do a great feat of physical acting as Thatcher the shuffling aged lady and of mimicry as the politician in her prime ministership but I didn't feel I was getting a sense of what Thatcher was like. What drove Thatcher was really portrayed by Alexandra Roach as the young Thatcher, the gawky grocer's daughter, earnest and single-minded, with notions that the economy is a chain of self-reliant families and small businesses. (The shop-keeping self-employed class loathe the striking wage earning class). How she enacted these ideas in policies was hardly touched on.
That may be something that this kind of biopic drama can't deal with unless it is done totally differently i.e. leave out a half hour or so of Thatcher meandering round her flat sorting through Dennis's things and have some scenes with people who weren't Thatcher, or Dennis, or cabinet ministers - people who were in fact affected by her policies, not the angry rioters and bombers who appeared as a back drop. That though would have been making quite a different kind of film, without the chance of a great central performance. Biopics do this - everything becomes a set of planets orbiting the sun of the subject.
The portrayal of the woman in a man's world part was pedestrian. It was much better fun in The Long Walk to Finchley. For a tighter and more dramatic film on Thatcher I would go for the BBC's Margaret. Lindsay Duncan played Thatcher, not doing a tour de force of acting dazzle but perfectly fine as the regal lady whose arrogance brought her down. Margaret, dealing only with Thatcher's ousting, had a dramatic tension and shape. The effect was of a killer whale barrelling through the sea unexpectedly being mauled by Tory sharks and stung by Tory jellyfish until she sank. The Iron Lady is a shapeless film although it's not dull or unwatchable. Anyone interested in recent British history, or who lived through the eighties, can be curious about how certain events and people are portrayed.
Meryl Streep said she was a little awed at performing with a gang of Britain's character actors, who appeared as the politicians of Thatcher's day. It was enjoyable seeing who would play which cabinet minister or leader of the opposition. When Richard E Grant appeared as Michael Heseltine I, and no doubt 90% of the audience, immediately thought Withnail and I. Heseltine always seemed a little louche and Richard E Grant was a pleasure as a long-legged high foreheaded take of him.
In this modern world film actors are far more highly regarded than politicians. The reaction of the British media is to be overwhelmed at the honour that one of Hollywood's queens plays our former Prime Minister.