The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Am I turning into an iron-lady?

with 20 comments

What happened to my heart?

Did I lose it to The Muppets, putting a stone in the place where it used to be? Or maybe it was The Artist that stole it to a different era, refusing to return it until I’ve plowed through some more silent films.

Something must have happened, or how can you else explain that I didn’t tear up a single time when I watched The Iron Lady the other night?

“Look at her!” “She’s OLD and LONELY and bordering to senile!” “Her son doesn’t want to see her!” “She sacrificed her family for the career and but in the end, when you lift away all the pearls and hats, we’re all humans!” “Come on Jessica!” “Connect to her! Feel the fear of your own aging!” “What will become of you one day?” “Will you end up miserable like her?”

I tried and I tried and I tried. Fiffi, my Swedish blogging sister in arms, had given the movie five glowing stars after crying her way all the way through it. Somehow this portray of the person Margaret Thatcher spoke to her.

But for all my efforts I couldn’t hear whatever it tried to say to me. I wasn’t touched and I kept nagging myself about it. “What was WRONG with me? Didn’t I see what a fantastic performance Meryl Streep did? Make-up and costume can only take you so far. She was jaw-dropping good at impersonating Thatcher, wasn’t she?”

I don’t know how to explain my lack of compassion for the old lady. Perhaps I’m a bit of an iron lady myself.

Not a documentary
Most of the complaints I’ve seen have been about how little it goes into the politics. The demonstrations, the criticism against her, the hard times many people had in Britain during her regime, are only briefly hinted in some uncommented footage that pass by every so quickly. You never really get to understand the politician Thatcher.

But while I can understand why you might think so, I don’t agree.

This is a movie, not a documentary. There are so many different aspects to the life of person like this and you need to pick an angle and stick to it. They chose a different perspective, a more personal one, and that’s fine. It’s an aspect that is or could be as interesting as a movie about the politician.

My problem however is that it’s so half hearted. I wanted someone to stick their fingers into the wounds where they hurt and start poking around until you can FEEL the pain.

As far as I can tell, this baroness leads a perfectly good life, with a daughter and servants to who take care of her. She’s far from forgotten, getting invitations to all sorts of arrangements, spending her days writing autographs in her memoirs when she’s not small talking with the ghost or memory of her diseased husband. What is the problem, really? Am I supposed to be shocked at the sight of the ex prime minister buying milk in a shop?

Not close enough
The least you’d expect from a picture that is supposed to be personal is that it is that very thing: personal. This movie doesn’t get close enough. It’s not black enough. It’s not naked enough. It’s not daring enough.

Thatcher remains someone I watch from the distance, the person on the photos, barely more alive than the wax figure at Madame Tussauds.  And who can blame the film makers? I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s censorship at play, but maybe they put some sub-conscious restraints on themselves? It must be hard to make a bio-pic of someone who is still alive.

I’m sorry Fiffi, but I thought The Iron Lady was quite unremarkable. Not even Meryl Streep’s magnificent acting could save it.

And now I need to go out looking for my heart. I know it’s somewhere.

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, UK, 2011) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

March 27, 2012 at 1:00 am

20 Responses

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  1. I agree with you. I didn’t know what to do with this movie after watching it. The acting was great, but apart from that? Neither fish nor fowl. Not detailed enough for a documentary, not personal enough for a portrait.

    Her son doesn’t want to see her? He lives in South Africa and she expects him to come over for dinner. And if I get senile the way shown there I will be happy. I really didn’t took this as a too negative, as something the film makers expect you to be pitiful about. Just as description. It is no big surprise that even prime ministers are human and get old.


    March 27, 2012 at 7:22 am

    • Neither fish nor fowl. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I think there is a personal story somewhere beneath all the costumes but they didn’t have the guts or will or skill to find it and bring it out so I could feel it for real.


      March 27, 2012 at 7:19 pm

  2. I have SOOOO little interest in seeing this film. Thatcher ruined my country in her era, although I was a child I do remember how hard it was back then!

    • Yeah I understand that many who were around at that time in UK have so bad memories from it that the movie feels like a kind of insult to them. I guess it’s been doing pretty good in cinemas still though. I was a bit surprised to see how well it goes in Sweden. It opened in the beginning of February and it’s still on the top 10 at the box office. I guess it reflects that Swedes on the whole are angophiles. It’s like our second home country.


      March 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm

  3. Oh no Jessica, you´re not an iron-lady because you didn´t cry like a baby during this film. I think I´m quite lonely in my type of reaction, I mean, I have no sympathies what so ever for Mrs Thatcher, I don´t like her, not as a politician, not as a mother, not as a human being but still I found her so….heartbreaking in the movie. I can´t explain it. But please don´t compare you´re feelings with mine regarding this film, it´s just me being a weirdo 😉


    March 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    • I don’t think any of us is weird. Emotional responses to movies are pretty irrational sometimes, aren’t they?


      March 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm

  4. I feel exactly the same as Scott, absolutely no desire to see Margaret Thatcher on the big screen; she’s bad enough on telly. I guess it’s pure coincidence that you mentioned her buying milk in a shop; for me she was and will always be Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher!

    FlimsrRuss (@FilmsrRuss)

    March 28, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    • That was a nickname for her? I don’t think it’s a coincidence they have her buying milk in the movie in that case.


      March 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      • Yes, it was – I still think of her as that too! She stopped free milk in schools for children over seven in order to cut back on spending, and that name stuck with her for a long, long time.


        March 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm

        • I think there are a lot of associaltions and clues like that which the international audience will miss out on.


          March 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm

  5. I think the big thing here is really identifying with that sense of real loneliness even in a crowd. At least that was my take.

    I myself ended up being bitter and over analytical with this movie. I didn’t really know anything of her prior to watching and in the end I just had to wonder how much she’d done landed her in this position. Having an abusive father who sometimes mournfully says we don’t talk or do things enough, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the same way.

    Obviously not abusing them, as a public figure that would be everywhere, but more did she hurt them or drive them away in different ways?

    A quote I like that I can’t find verbatim says something along the lines of “anybody can be an angel in their time of need, but seeing how a man treats those who are beneath him is the true way to judge their character.” we see her after she’s lost her strength, not when she wielded it.

    Holly’s 2 cents

    Holly "Digit" Dotson

    March 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    • I agree that the movie leaves you with more questions than it answers. I didn’t quite get what was her driving force. I reckon she could have said “I was inspired from my father” i an interview and that they built the movie on such quotes. But it was so superficial – emotionally as well as politically. I think she probably was lonely but I couldn’t feel her pain in this, it didn’t come through.


      March 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      • I think I was still too busy trying to analyze why she’d be put in the position, than to even try to sympathize, so I can’t say.

        Holly "Digit" Dotson

        March 29, 2012 at 5:02 am

  6. I haven’t seen this – and don’t really intend to. Perhaps a bit too close to the skin – but maybe from the other direction and general opinion of Margaret Thatcher and her time in office. Also, there are few figures who have defined my country and my world as much as Margaret Thatcher has. It makes a film like this difficult to contemplate.

    Lewis Maskell

    March 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen so strong reactions to a movie like this one. There are so many like you who don’t want to see it. It certainly tells something about what impact she had.


      March 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      • I wonder what the reactions were in the UK to the first film primarily about Winston Churchill (as opposed to films in which the character is mostly cameo role), and if they would be comparable. I mention this because I remember a little of when “The Gathering Storm” (a tv film) there was a fair bit of pushback regarding the portrayal of Churchill in that film – more than thirty years after his death.

        Lewis Maskell

        March 29, 2012 at 11:43 pm

        • I haven’t heard of the film so I have no idea. I also know very little about Churchill. But I can imagine that if you made something negative about someone who was admired and united the country in a difficult time it might not be all that popular… Some people are not to be touched.


          March 29, 2012 at 11:46 pm

  7. I don’t think I’ve commented on your blog before, bonjour tristesse sent me here!

    I wrote about Iron Lady in my monthly recap. The film does appear to have a lot of haters due to humanizing Thatcher, maybe they feel she should only be remembered for causing a lot of Brits pain in the 80s. Iwas ok with filmmakers attempting to reveal her mind set, stubbornness, lack of empathy to those her politics affected.
    For me the biggest problem was how much time is spent focusing on her senile years, which I think is the least interesting stage of her life.
    I agree it would probably be a more satisfying movie, if Thatcher had been questioned and held accountable


    April 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    • Hi there and welcome! Bonjour Tristesse is such a great place and I’m so glad you found your way here as well.

      Like you I think it would be ok to show a bit of the human being Thatcher, but I think they didn’t manage to do that in a touching or believable way. And there are so many interesting things that I would have liked to see. Like… how DID she manage to get that position in such a male dominated world? What was it that made her succeed where very few other women has? I don’t think that ever really was answered. What it took her.


      April 2, 2012 at 8:05 pm

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