I found it painful to watch the Iron Lady movie. I’m always prepared to be mesmerized by Meryl Streep, and truly her brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher did not disappoint. Nevertheless, I found the movie distinctly painful.
Another aspect of the movie to admire was the use of time to shape and interpret events. Fascinating, because fiction and biography that starts with a scene from a famous person’s old age will usually flash back to youth and take us on a chronological journey of how an amazing life unfolded. Iron Lady did not take the linear approach. Rather, it juxtaposed scenes according to their emotional or thematic connections.
I recognized the film-makers’ visual and emotional working-out of the theory of relativity, that the closest distance between two points is a curve and not a straight line, that time and distance can be very close if it is folded, that the linear perception of time on Earth is a mere convention. Intellectually engaging, yes, but the movie hurt on too many other levels. I wanted to tell the friends beside me, “I’m done! They’ve messed up the script!” and walk out. Perhaps a personal context might have influenced my response, at least in part.
I had just finished moving out of my university office and had seen my professional life consigned to the recycling bin. The bulk of my task had been to sort through and discard hundreds of paper files. Much of it was teaching notes that I had long ago transferred to digital and they deserved to get tossed. But a lot of it was original research on subjects that had fascinated me at some point or another.
There were files about difficult students and wonderful students; files of support letters from other faculty and notes I’d taken during conferences and meetings. What out of all of this matters in the end? If it all means nothing as I throw it out, then do I really I have nothing to show for all those years of earnest effort? Those were the questions on my mind and heart as I sat down to the movie, Iron Lady.
I expected heroism
I expected to admire an iconic figure; I expected to celebrate how the first woman Prime Minister wielded her power. Instead I was told that none of what Margaret Thatcher had done as a brilliant politician or as a person who demonstrated hope to the women of my generation amounted to anything. All her life came to in the end was a befuddled old lady who was a has-been in all spheres, both to her family as well as to her colleagues. We saw a difficult old woman sinking through layers of dementia. I can’t believe that Margaret Thatcher’s life didn’t amount to more than that. She was huge on the world stage. Her life deserved celebration.
Think about the old movie Patton, the WWII general played by George C. Scott. Yes, the screen-play showed the man had flaws, but the script writers also put heroism and courage on the screen. Yes, he had his detractors, he had personal flaws, he made errors — but he was brilliant and he helped to lead the nation during a wrenchingly difficult time. Why couldn’t that be the story told of Margaret Thatcher? She deserves it.
A story told in terms of failure
I hate to say that her story was told in terms of failure simply because she was a woman. But there it is. And the biggest tragedy of all is that Meryl Streep has acted her part so brilliantly that a re-make of Thatcher’s life will be a long time coming. The current movie is the (non)tribute that will stand. What a pity.
Can you see why I found it painful to watch the Iron Lady movie?