Friday, January 13, 2012

SRPS Movie Night - The Iron Lady

One of my goals for 2012 is to see as many female-centric movies as possible on their opening weekend, using my dollars to, hopefully, send a message to Hollywood that I'm willing to give them my money for good films about women who are interesting, complex, and inspiring.

So, I made it a point to get out to see The Iron Lady today, even though I had lots of work to do, and a house to get ready for a party this weekend. Oh, and a trip to the DMV. (I treated myself to a bag of popcorn to make up for that bit of nastiness.)

My initial thoughts on the movie are this: Meryl Streep is truly an acting goddess, and we should all worship her forever and ever. Any project she shows even the slightest bit of interest in should be immediately green-lighted.

But that doesn't really tell you anything about the movie, other than her performance alone is well worth the ticket price. You see her as Thatcher in her 30s and 40s as a Member of Parliment and Education Secretary, in her 60s and early-70s as Prime Minister, and again, today, in her 90s. Her portrayal of these different ages of a powerful woman is beautifully wrought. There were very few moments when I was aware I was watching Meryl Streep. Most of the time, I had no trouble believing it was actually Margaret Thatcher.

My more careful thoughts about the movie are a bit more complicated. It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie. I did. I liked the story. I liked the mixing of modern times in with history, and the mix of political with personal. I liked seeing the whole life of such a strong woman who influenced history. We see her as young woman starting out with passion and verve, and as a middle-aged woman learning how to appreciate her power and seeking to use it to actually do something in life.

But we also see her as an elderly, but still not frail, woman who is experiencing some flashbacks and hallucinations about her previous life. I found this method very comfortable. I enjoyed the interleaving of modern events and historic memories. It seemed very natural, and much more interesting than just a start-to-finish story.

I like that the writer didn't pull any punches when showing Mrs. Thatcher as politically-driven, but also didn't make this a political movie. Fans of Mrs. Thatcher may be disappointed that this isn't a film showing off her politics. Critics of Mrs. Thatcher can sit through every scene and not feel like throwing things at the screen.

And, yes, even all these years later, people are still quite divided about her as a politician.

I was born in 1970, and I came of age during the Reagan/Thatcher era. Although I am American, I was at least nominally aware of what was going on in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Fauklands, etc. I was never a fan of Mrs. Thatcher, as I have nearly always identified as a Progressive or Liberal. But I still admired her as a woman who led an important country, and opened doors for future women to enter politics and be taken seriously.

We get to see her entering the male world of British politics, and earning her place to lead it for 11 years. Whatever you think of what she did while there, she achieved a lot just by being there.

As entertainment, the movie falls a bit flat. I wonder how much context we should be able to infer, rather than be told directly. There are news clips showing the events of the day, but to someone not familiar with the history, it may be a bit confusing at times. The production team is from the UK, and I suspect that the writers were writing from a strictly British point of view, and didn't intend to give everyone a lesson in recent British history.

Which is a long way of saying if you're not familiar with the Thatcher years in Great Britain, it might be worthwhile to do a quick study of the issues before seeing the movie. But it isn't completely necessary.

Meryl Streep's performance will more than make up for any confusion you may have. I highly recommend seeing this movie, regardless of what you think of Mrs. Thatcher. Just seeing a woman who is that passionate, that driven, that strong, is inspiring. I may not agree with most of what she did, but I respect that she was able to do it.

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