Harvey Critic - 29/12


There's nothing bland or compromising about Margaret Thatcher, perhaps known today in the U.S. more than any other recent British Prime Minister. She would find apt company in our Republican Party debates, though there her right-wing views would hardly stand out as anything different or weird given the state of politics here today. A soul sister, as it were, of Ronald Reagan, she took vociferous stands against unions and against what she considered a nanny state with a citizenry groveling at the feed of government agencies for welfare payments, disability allowances, guarantees against job dismissal. When Falkland Islands' neighbor Argentina invaded that British-held island, Margaret sent the fleet to take back the land thereby protecting the British citizens who are settled there. Like so many Republicans and tea party advocates on our shores, she was nots simply a few meters different from liberals in her political views but on a different planet. Hers today might be the view that the rich should not pay any higher percentage of tax than the poor, since why should success be penalized? And why should anyone owe obligations to his or her fellow creatures simply because both are citizens or residents of the same country?

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The Weinstein Company

Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten

Grade: B+
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Screenwriter: Abi Morgan
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 11/23/11
Opens: December 30, 2011

Like such British political dramas as Michael Apted's "Amazing Grace," about the fierce loyalties of William Pitt, Phyllida Lloyd's biopic of the titled ferrous female has far from a dull political focus but instead plays up the personal aspects of the lady that proves her to be somewhat less shatterproof than iron. Instead Lloyd focuses, if in an overly sentimental way, with the woman years after her retirement when she shops for a bottle of milk seemingly unrecognized by the clerk or the customers and then complains to the almost ubiquitous ghost of her dead mate Dennis (Jim Broadbent) of the price. Like a lower middle-class denizen of a nondescript London neighborhood, she takes her time peeling a soft-cooked egg while chatting with her husband, complaining that he uses too much butter ("I like butter!") but clearly dependent on this vision and fearful that Dennis would leave him soul as well as body.

The principal time period is 2005 when Britain has come under terrorist attack, though Lloyd shifts the spotlight regularly to the lady's youth, then to her rise in politics. She is at first almost overtly heckled by the men in their bespoke suits, relegated to a women's room in Parliament complete with an ironing board, but who by force of speech and passion rises to the leadership of her party. (These steps are not made clear by the film. Weren't there quite a few men who'd have priority over her as the choice of the Tories?) Though Thatcher is eventually forced out of her party's leadership by street protests, including a miners' strike, IRA terrorism, an unconscionable gap in incomes, she retains her partisan supporters to this day.

But wait. Though the plot is conventional, even didactic, you may not be going to this movie to learn about Margaret Thatcher but rather to watch the uncanny performance by Meryl Streep who plays the Iron Lady both as Prime Minister and a retired homebody who is now unrecognizable by her public. Streep, America's foremost actress, does not play Thatcher: she actually is the woman, fragile in her dotage, forceful in her Prime Ministership, showing youthful ambition long before she hitched her political star to her country's government. In other words you don't go to this movie for the story but rather for Streep's searing performance, once which won her the Best Actress award from New York Film Critics Circle.

Among the rewards of this movie is insight into the British parliamentary system, one more exciting than our own in that the deputies do not sit passively while bills are debated but actively heckle those whose views they do not like - if they fail to remove those malefactors by social pressure. Without Meryl Streep, the film might never have gotten off the ground, and good thing too. Her flawless acting projects the views of the writer, Abi Morgan, and director Lloyd, that Margaret Thatcher receives ever-so-just treatment as a woman whose virtues and vices are nothing more than elements to be pondered by the audience.

Rated PG-13 105 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online.

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