Editor’s note: Script reviews of upcoming projects have been around for as long as there’s been an Internet. Therefore it’s no secret that a film can evolve into something quite different from its screenplay. Please keep in mind that this article represents a look at a particular script and not the final product.
Author’s note: There are a couple of spoilers in this review. If you are dying to watch this movie when it is released in 2011 don’t read any further.
When BH editor extraordinaire John Nolte asked me if I wanted to do a Sucker Punch review of the script for The Iron Lady, the upcoming film featuring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, my response was (and I quote), “Yes!!!” After reading the script, however, I almost wish I had declined the offer.
Why? Well, when I think of Margaret Thatcher, I think of an extraordinary woman who defied the odds to become the UK’s first woman prime minister and who did her best to bring her nation, kicking and screaming, into a period of prosperity – a nation that was on the brink of financial collapse when she first came to office in 1979. Being human like the rest of us, she had triumphs, and also some failures. For a comprehensive look at both her successes and what she might have done differently, see this article at The Heritage Foundation.
Unfortunately, Thatcher (formally known as Baroness Thatcher, having had the lifetime peerage bestowed upon her by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992), after a lifetime of strength, courage and fortitude, is now known to be suffering from dementia, a terrible disease in which one begins to forget little things and slowly forgets more and more. I cannot imagine how frightening it must be to begin to forget one’s loved ones and, perhaps, oneself.
But it’s great fodder for a movie, especially if the subject is a strong conservative woman whose policies have always been loathed by the left. Who cares if she’s still alive but unable to defend herself against the film’s implications?
The Iron Lady, written by Abi Morgan and produced by Damian Jones, is a bit of a roller coaster and it was hard at times to keep track of what time period it was, even with it written right there on the page in front of me. Flitting back and forth from present day (noted in the script as 2008) to 1943 to 1990 and many different years in between, we “see” the world through the eyes of a Thatcher who is losing touch with reality and who frequently travels back through time to relive a life once full of activity and purpose – a life which has now been reduced to the occasional dinner party and trips to the doctor. And don’t forget the whisky – lots of whisky. To dull the pain of what’s become a menial existence, I suppose.
Once surrounded by powerful men and the occasional woman, Thatcher’s constant companions now consist of her home health aide, her private secretary, and her grown daughter Carol (Olivia Colman), who pops in often to check on Mum and make sure she is okay.
Oh, and husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent). Trouble is, Denis died back in 2003. Lady Thatcher is talking to a ghost – or, rather, a lively figment of her imagination that only she can see and hear, causing concern for the few people who she sees on a daily basis. In the film, Denis acts as her confidante and her conscience – at times trying to cheer her up by doing silly things like wearing a pink turban, while at other times he lectures that no one listens to her anymore because she is just an “old lady who is losing her marbles” and when a public bored with socialism votes the conservatives back into power, “they’ll wheel you out to show again.”
Denis also – and this is key – claims that what Lady Thatcher achieved during her long and storied career was really not any of her doing. He says that all of her accomplishments “would have happened anyway darling” because that’s “the way politics always goes” and she was “just in the right place at the right time.” He continues by saying that she’s “yesterday’s news, just another footnote in history.”
Isn’t that the narrative about Ronald Reagan, Lady Thatcher’s international friend and ally? He had nothing to do with the fall of the Soviet Union and the eventual destruction of the Berlin Wall – he just happened to be in office when it happened. Mikhail Gorbachev is the one who deserves all of the credit, right? In this, The Iron Lady is simply another vehicle to for the contemporary Left to rewrite history more to their liking, despite polls like this one where Lady Thatcher is considered the most influential woman 20 years after leaving office.
The script also alludes to Lady Thatcher being an absentee mother who placed her career above the well-being of her children. There is truth to this claim, as her own daughter was quoted as saying, “A mother cannot reasonably expect her grown-up children to boomerang back, gushing cosiness and make up for lost time. Absentee Mum, then Gran in overdrive is not an equation that balances.” But that doesn’t mean that Thatcher’s children are thrilled with the upcoming portrayal of their mother. In fact, according to a family friend, they are “appalled” by it and “think it sounds like some Left-wing fantasy.” Blood is thicker than water, after all.
Women have always walked a fine line when it comes to balancing family with career, and women in politics face even more scrutiny than the average working mother. But while the Left has always told us that a woman’s place is not in the home but out furthering her own career ambitions, when a conservative woman does just that, she’s demonized by those who might naturally be her ally.
However, there are some depictions of Lady Thatcher’s maternal nature in the script. Lady Thatcher is depicted as a woman who, no matter how hard she tries, will never be “one of the guys.” What’s an alienated female politician to do? Act like a mother hen to both her husband and colleagues, buttoning the cuff links of one and pouring tea for another, saying, “Shall I be mother?” This script is chock full of such moments calculated to show Lady Thatcher in a most unflattering light.
It’s always galling to see conservative women held to different standards than their liberal counterparts. Take this comparison of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin by the ever-classy Maureen Dowd, for example. Dowd claims Hillary has finally come into her own and has conquered any doubt that she can’t manage without riding Bill’s coattails, while Sarah – who worked her way to where she is without having a politically powerful husband – is described as “bizarre babe-at-large, a Nixon with hair extensions” and a “whiny presidential contender.” Keep it classy, Maureen. I might suggest that your bile toward Sarah is reflective of your own fading beauty and inability to form a lasting relationship with that special someone, but that wouldn’t be nice.
Hillary’s famous comment about deciding to forge ahead with her career after marriage instead of “baking cookies and having teas” also comes to mind in The Iron Lady during a flashback where Lady Thatcher tells hubby Denis that she refuses to be one of the women who stays “silent and pretty on the arm of their husband…washing up the teacups.” In fact, she declares, she “will not die washing a teacup.”
Guess what the Iron Lady is depicted as doing in the final scene?
Cameron McCracken, managing editor of Pathe Films, says of the movie:
“It is a film about power and the price that is paid for power. In that sense, it is the story of every person who has ever had to balance their private life with their public career.” He says Lady Thatcher’s health will be featured, but insists that it will be “treated with appropriate sensitivity”. He adds of the film: “Although fictional, it will be fair and accurate.”
I have to wonder: Someday, if (heaven forbid) Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or another powerful female politician is struck down with dementia, will filmmakers do a “fictional” but “fair and accurate” movie about a woman who preferred to be a formidable political force to staying at home with her daughter, creating a completely unsympathetic character who deserves to face impending death alone with only memories of a career fit for being “just another footnote in history” for company?
I leave you to guess.