Politics Schmolitics, Being a Lady is Hard!
WOOF, what a dog of an assignment. I try to go into movies with an open mind, but let’s be honest, that was impossible here. The Iron Lady. I felt stupid just saying the title. Try it. Go to your local theater and tell the cashier, “I’m here to see The Iron Lady.” You’ll feel like an asshole, I promise. It sounds like a torture device, and it was.
Basically, I expected a cut-rate The King’s Speech, which was already the same boring biopic we’ve all seen umpteen times before. A COURAGEOUS OUTSIDER AND BLAH BLAH BLAH UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP WAR SPEECH THE END.
Imagine my surprise when I found that it wasn’t a biopic about Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister at all, but rather a biopic about Margaret Thatcher: Senile Old Lady, grieving over her husband (Jim Broadbent) who died eight years ago. You know that shitty flashback structure they use in every biopic where the decrepit old protagonist stares wistfully at a picture of himself on a horse before it flashes back and turns into a period piece? Well imagine if that pointless flashback justification wasn’t just five minutes at the beginning and end of the movie, but A RECURRING THEME THAT TAKES UP HALF THE RUNNING TIME. Hate boring, conventional political biopics? Well hey, here’s that, intercut with 40 minutes of an old lady hallucinating conversations with her dead husband about tea! MY GOD, IT’S ALL WORTH IT TO HEAR MERYL STREEP DO AN ACCENT!
This film actually made me wish for a more accurate portrayal of the political events of Margaret Thatcher’s term. Ponder that while you’re staring into the abyss. IRA bombings, economic strife, the Falklands War—there’s actually some complexity there into which one might delve (to borrow Thatcher’s favorite rhetorical strategy), but The Iron Lady treats them all as referendums on “poise.” How will the old bird handle this latest political crisis? SPOILER ALERT: WITH A STIFF UPPER LIP. AN UPPER LIP SO FUCKING STIFF YOU’D THINK IT WAS MADE OF IRON!
The Falklands is the one world event that isn’t glossed over completely in favor of portentous hairspray changes and diction lessons, and Iron Lady‘s treatment of that is absolutely infuriating. After the Argentinians invade the disputed territory 250 miles off their coast, Thatcher quickly stands up for what she thinks is right (BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT AN IRON LADY DOES, YOU SEE) and dispatches warships. In the ensuing council with US Secretary of State Alexander Haig (Matthew Marsh), he asks her why she wants to send troops thousands of miles to protect some shitty islands where hardly anyone lives (valid question, really). She cuts him off with, “Like Hawaii, I’d imagine.”
First of all, are you fucking high? But her idiotic Pearl Harbor analogy gets zero scrutiny from the filmmakers (and in fact was treated with soaring music, I thought my brain was melting), only this exchange:
HAIG: “With all due respect, madame, when one has been to war—”
THATCHER/STREEP: “With all duuuue respect, sir, I HAVE done battle. Ev-ray SINGLE day of my life.”
Get it? She knows war because she’s a chick! So I guess we can blame the Falklands War on feminism now!
Fuck this movie.
The worst part about The Iron Lady isn’t that it purees all the events of Margaret Thatcher’s life into a pastry bag of clichés so that it can make a nice, Hollywood biopic turd cake (though that does make it interminably dull). It’s that they ignore the political and historical context of almost everything that happens so that they can make the fabulously reductive statement that LIFE WAS TOUGH FOR GIRLS, BUT SHE WAS A TOUGH GIRL. What’s the point? It’d be like making a picture about Harry Truman where your only interest was in him as representative of guys with glasses, and the scene where he dropped the atomic bomb was likened to the triumphant moment when Marty McFly finally stood up to Biff. (And that analogy makes this sound more interesting than it is, I promise).
There was a guy sitting next to me who would laugh uproariously every time Meryl Streep did something bitchy. He was wearing about seven necklaces with feathers and medallions, a velour hoodie with Asian dragons printed on it, and a black tank top that just said “CASTRO” (ie, the district in San Francisco) in big block letters. I suspect Meryl Streep acting fabulously imperious was the main draw for him, and even he walked out of The Iron Lady after about 40 minutes. My point is, don’t see this because Meryl Streep is a great actress. You already know Meryl Streep is a great actress, go rent Doubt or Adaptation again. The only reason this film was made was to win awards, and it doesn’t deserve the satisfaction.
I want more like this!
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