September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012

In My Opinion: The Iron Lady

I can’t speak for you, but I personally didn’t know much about Thatcher-era Britain before watching “The Iron Lady.” Call this a gaping blind spot if you will; it’s just like how all my history books in school stopped around 1950. Though important things have happened in the past few decades, it’s as if they’re too fresh to be considered real “history” just yet. Anyway, “The Iron Lady” was the perfect opportunity for this already-converted Anglophile to learn more about the woman who smacked GB into shape.

The film is told a series of flashbacks. Modern-day Thatcher reminisces about various episodes from her history while contending with the onset of dementia. She discusses the past with her husband who (spoiler alert) is not really there; the conversation serves as a handy vehicle for us the audience. We see Thatcher, nee Roberts, admiring her grocer-cum-local politician father during the War. We see Thatcher lose and then win election to a local seat. We see her run for party leader, then become Prime Minister, then open an almighty can of whoopass on the people of Britannia.

Now, I had/have no dog in that fight. My opinions on Ireland, unions, and other UK economic issues are completely irrelevant to the conversation. (Should we ever become part of the Commonwealth, come back and we’ll talk.) I can’t say whether the Thatcherism and the Conservatives did the country right or wrong. But I’m pretty sure she ruled with an iron fist, and that’s awesome no matter how you slice it.

Take a cabinet meeting in which a minister handed Thatcher, by then PM, a schedule with misspellings and typos. After a verbal smackdown, she dismissed the entire cabinet meeting. Said minister resigned shortly thereafter. If there’d been tea cakes on the table, it would have been like my dream work scenario. (The deposition of Thatcher shortly thereafter by her own party? Less so.)

Even if you’re not gaga for England, you can’t help but admire how they run things over there. Ever watched a meeting of Parliament? The iconic green benches, the wigs, the ginormous ledgers… It’s simultaneously classy and rambunctious, and I love it. We get a couple of scenes of Thatcher shouting and getting shouted at, though none of her in the wig.

The film obliquely addresses the family vs. career issue a few times, mostly through the comments and behavior of Thatcher’s husband and daughter. Maggie doesn’t come off looking very well, I’m afraid. It turns out that running a country requires long hours. Mothers and mothers-to-be who aspire to PMship, take note.

I found the film sad, and not just because Thatcher spent 99% of the film in some shade of blue. Despite all that she had accomplished—whether you agree with her policies or not, she made a LOT of changes—she can’t remember it. While watching a news story about her trip to the doctor, she doesn’t even recognize herself. In that way, age is the great equalizer, I guess.

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