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MARGARET MIA!

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Or, the privevitazation of Thatcher.

The last line on the screen after all the credits have rolled, states the movie is based on historical events and individuals that have been fictionalised.

Got that? Fictionalised. ‘The Iron Lady’ is not a documentary.

Phyllida Lloyd’s previous film was ‘Mama Mia’ which also starred Meryl Streep. It was the movie adaptation of a very financially successful musical play.

The framing device for the storyline has been savaged by many critics. An elderly Margaret Thatcher engages in conversation with her husband’s ghost; vividly rendered flashbacks to her valiant girlhood, her long association with the Conservative Party, her rise to power and her political decline are juxtaposed against these fanciful domestic scenes with dead Denis who, as one wag noted, is more lively in death than he was in life.

Such dramatic artifice has been effectively exploited on stage; I sense ‘The Iron Lady’ - the Movie - is a prelude to ‘The Iron Lady’ - the Musical.

Here’s a taste of a few well-informed reviews about the Thatcher bio-pic.

Matthew Parris worked for Thatcher before she became leader of the Conservative Party; he served briefly as MP in her government.

If, watching Streep in “The Iron Lady,” you feel at the end that you still don’t really know Margaret Thatcher, then don’t imagine Streep has missed something. The Thatcher we knew - and didn’t know - was strangely impenetrable. I don’t actually believe she had hidden depths. The will, the drive, the purpose, the plan - the intense beam of her task-focused concentration - were the better part of her, what she mainly was, and it was there for all to see. […]

There is one more hugely important point to make about “The Iron Lady.” Here in Britain, the more loopy of the old lady’s disciples have attacked the movie as an act of aggression or disrespect because it depicts her as fitfully senile. They are wrong. She is fitfully senile. She does forget that her husband is dead.

And then:

It is an anti-feminist film insofar as it depicts Margaret Thatcher as the prototypical career-woman neglectful of her family. It is a feminist film insofar as it shows her defeating the massed ranks of prejudiced Maledom to get to the top.

And that is a mystery in itself: how on earth did Margaret Thatcher get elected to the leadership of a Tory Party depicted here as composed entirely of male chauvinists. The various scenes in which the then Mrs. Thatcher battles, triumphs over, leads, and is eventually betrayed by an all-male three-piece-suited chorus line of Tories are almost balletic in character, beautifully composed, flawlessly filmed, and aching to be set to music.

Music and lyrics should quickly follow. Actually, if the movie does garner the requisite awards, I expect that a date will be announced for the musical’s simultaneous Broadway and West End debut.

Casting the stage version of ‘The Iron Lady’ might be daunting, since Streep has raised high the bar in her definitive interpretation of the Baroness, as observed here.

In a recent article in The Age on The Iron Lady, authorised Thatcher biographer Charles Moore notes that Streep, who has never met Thatcher, has somehow managed to simulate “virtually every mannerism and trick of speech: a slight movement of the lower lip after speaking, the smile that can suddenly frost over, the mixture of genuine courtesy to people in general and shattering rudeness to senior colleagues”. […]

The overwhelming power of her performance is not simply grounded in her ability to mimic Thatcher’s mannerisms. Using Shakespeare’s King Lear as a source of inspiration, Abi Morgan’s expertly crafted screenplay provides Streep with the raw material to turn her tormented character into a tragic figure: a woman who has succeeded against the odds but whose fatal flaw (her inability to empathise) brings her undone.

Much as this reviewer writes, I was disturbed by the destructively improvised and ineptly justified austerity schemes enforced by Thatcher while she ruled Britannia.

I am a child of the Thatcher era but no Thatcherite. In the Eighties, my father lost his job as a milkman and joined the ranks of the unemployed. Times were hard and I remember vividly the loathing my parents felt towards her and her government. They actively supported the miners’ strikes and I have fond memories of visiting Barnsley and sitting on a miner’s knee while my parents were taken on an informal tour of the pits.

I remember the graffiti daubed on walls near our home after the poll tax riots. I remember going on marches and protests with my mother and chanting the old soubriquet “Thatcher, Thatcher milk-snatcher”. I also remember the day in 1990 when Lady Thatcher left office and a music teacher burst into our classroom, unable to conceal her delight.

Margaret Thatcher was a pantomime-ish villain of my childhood.

Yes, ‘The Iron Lady’ is prime panto, delivered in the best British tradition. Lavish costumes, fabulous make-up and snappy dialogue delivered in declamatory tones when appropriate culminate in a lavish scene set in Paris, worthy of the court of Louis XVI.

If the news footage used to heighten the tragic notes and the sight of protestors lying in pools of blood inject too rude a note of reality to this showpiece, audience members might lie back, close their eyes and think of England.

The investors backing the multi-million productions of ‘The Iron Lady’ - the Musical - will surely cluck happily when they rake in the profits from this venture.

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This page contains a single entry by published on January 16, 2012 1:46 PM.

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