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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Iron Lady

Great Performance Undermined by Narrative Mess

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 2, 2011 -- Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an important, enigmatic and precedent-setting figure in world history. Meryl Streep's performance as Thatcher does the Iron Lady justice, but the film doesn't. It's too bad Thatcher doesn't have the right wing publicity machine that Ronald Reagan has. She deserves the legacy enhancement more that he does. This movie will help, though.

The film's structure is problematic. Thatcher is shown as an old lady shopping at a store where nobody recognizes her. The story is told in multiple flashbacks at various points in her life. Not only are there a lot of flashbacks, there are also a lot of fantasy sequences, hallucinations really, that gum up the narrative. Thatcher's dead husband, Denis (played by Jim Broadbent of the “Harry Potter” movies) appears as a kind of ghost. He also appears in the flashbacks. From the time she is a young woman, she has enormous ambition and drive, but even she doesn't believe at first that she can actually become prime minister of England, a job no woman had ever held (just as no woman has ever been president of the United States, although Hilary Clinton should have been the first).

The repressed English society, where women must leave the room when the men start talking politics, is evident in Thatcher's early days. Even when elected to Parliament, she is pushed to the side and largely ignored. Her strong, clear, conservative voice can't be ignored forever, however. Political power brokers contact her and tell her that she can become prime minister if she changes her image, and she does change her image into that of a leader with help from some expert political managers. The film makes the argument that these power brokers want no favors in return for their help, and that there is no political cost for this help. That is hard to believe, even in England. In America, at least, that sort of helping hand will return later, palm up, seeking favors and getting those favors.

Thatcher is riding high, especially after the successful Falklands War (very similar to Reagan's little war in Grenada) along with British pride. Later, however, she is cast aside by her own party at the end of the Cold War, the same way that Winston Churchill was cast aside after World War II. The narrative of Thatcher's rise and fall from power works well enough, but it seems as though the film tries to tell two stories at once, Thatcher's career story and her battle to keep her wits about her despite increasing mental confusion and hallucinations in old age. The two stories don't work well together. There seems, in fact, no good reason to include the second story at all, and it isn't important enough to take up so much of the film. It does, however, strengthen the link between Thatcher's story and that of Reagan, who had his own battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Although this film contains a great performance by Streep (one of the greatest actors of her generation) and strong supporting performances, the muddled multi-flashback story spends far too much time on Thatcher's late life mental problems. The strong performances in the film include Alexandra Roach, who plays Thatcher when she was young, and Harry Lloyd of “Jane Eyre” who plays Denis Thatcher as a young man. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)