08 January 2012

Lady Day

I went to see The Iron Lady yesterday, even though I suspected I might not like it, which is unusual for me. The reviews have been decidedly middling but I figured that there is a good chance Meryl Streep will win the best actress Oscar for her performance as Margaret Thatcher, so it was worth seeing even just on that basis. As it turned out, the reviews were mostly right: Streep is very convincing as the Iron Lady and Jim Broadbent is also great and very funny as Denis Thatcher, but Phyllida Lloyd's movie felt like it was somehow missing the point, or, at least, missing the interesting parts of Thatcher's life.

Part of the problem is the framing device: an ageing, present-day Thatcher is suffering from some form of senile dementia and having hallucinations of her long-dead husband. She is supposed to be finally sorting through and getting rid of her husband's belongings and while she does so, she looks back on her life and career. This framing device would be fine if it simply opened and closed the film but it felt like almost half of the movie featured the present-day Thatcher, rather than focusing on her rise to power and her successes and failures as Prime Minister. We did get to see some of the latter but it was mainly portrayed through a series of brief snapshots: "oh, I want to be an MP"; "oh, now I've got kids"; "oh, I think I'll run for leader of the Tory party"; "oh, let's take back the Faulklands." As such, the portrait painted was highly superficial and almost seemed to trivialise many of the events. The director may have said that the film is really about ageing but if you wanted to make a film on that subject, surely you didn't need to choose Margaret Thatcher as the central character.

I am, technically, a child of the 1980s but I'm too young to remember most of it and my knowledge of British politics after the 17th century is shockingly bad. The Iron Lady is definitely not the film to see if you want to know more about Britain in the '80s. My other problem is that I didn't recognise most of the politicians and so unless they were mentioned by name, I had no idea who they were, although clearly they were supposed to be recognisable. As I say, there were some brilliant performances in The Iron Lady but overall, the movie was poorly structured and too shallow for my taste.

On the subject of ladies, however, my parents were in town and we managed to get last-minute tickets to see The Ladykillers in the West End. I haven't seen either versions of the movie and wasn't sure quite what to expect but it was a great production. Peter Capaldi was excellent as Professor Marcus, and the other actors were good fun too, including James Fleet (trivia: the actor who played the father of his character in The Vicar of Dibley, Gary Waldhorn, was sitting behind us in the audience). The set design was also fantastic, consisting mainly of the interior of a crooked, spiral-staircase-filled house, which rotated to reveal the front of the house, next to King's Cross Station (cleverly, for a scene involving a robbery, small, remote-control toy cars and trains were driven on tiny tracks up the side of the house, getting around the problem of portraying an action-packed car chase). The Ladykillers was definitely much more fun than The Iron Lady...

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