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January 23rd, 2012 10:49 am
Iron Lady Lacks Substance

James Bowman’s review today, at the American Spectator, of Iron Lady, the Meryl Streep movie about Margaret Thatcher, is right on target. He complains that the movie lingers (and lingers and lingers and lingers) over an almost entirely fictional account of Lady Thatcher in her dotage (yes, she has a form of dementia now, but the film invents its manifestations from thin air), while showing very little of her actual career in public life. Indeed, the entire period from the Falklands War to the end of the Cold War (nine years) is disposed of via a montage that lasts all of about 45 seconds, or maybe a minute. We see plenty of flashbacks of her showing her iron, but very, very little that indicate what she is showing her iron about. As Bowman writes, the producers have made “a political movie from which the politics has been extracted as a taxidermist draws out the brain of an animal he is stuffing through its nose. If there were any politics in it, they would have had to pick a side and portray Margaret Thatcher as essentially right or essentially wrong, so offending a significant portion of their potential audience who are, more than 30 years later, still passionately committed to one view or the other.

But this is foolish. They still could have avoided taking sides while portraying a lot more of the events of her career from a basically neutral standpoint. This isn’t journalism, of course, but even today there are good journalists who show that an even-handed neutrality in reporting can avoid betraying any bias while still portraying events in an interesting, dramatic (but not dramatized), even gripping manner. If print journalists can do this, it should be even easier for film-makers to do so.

For instance, a film-maker need evince no position on Thatcher’s philosophy in order to have Streep-as-Thatcher recreate the famous phone call in which Thatcher told the elder Bush to not “go wobbly” against Saddam Hussein. One need not agree with Thatcher’s support of Ronald Reagan’s hard line in the Cold War to show her making a speech in support of deploying mid-range missiles in Europe. And so on. Plenteous drama is achievable without necessarily taking sides. But the film-makers do none of this. As a result, they take the remarkable life of an indomitable lady and turn it into a series of brief flashbacks supporting the story of an almost pathetically confused old dame. Again, go back and read Bowman’s review. Good stuff.

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