OK, so I was born in 1988, well into the latter years of Thatcher’s reign and until she left Number 10, I was more concerned with my toys and food than the state of the country. So I’ve never really known much about her politics or what she had done, which actually made walking into this film quite refreshing - I was free from any particular bias towards the woman who is the main subject of the film. However, that was where the refreshment ended as we were propelled into Phyllidia Lloyd’s confused and sentimental biopic about one of the most controversial politicians in this country’s history.
The main base of the story revolves around Thatcher in the present day, going about her day-to-day life. She is a grieving woman growing old and senile, far from the picture that public memory has. From having conversations with her dead husband, she begins to remember times from her formative younger years as a grocer’s daughter to her years as prime minister. We jump back and forth through the narrative as the script (written by Abi Morgan) attempts to contrast the past and the present to reveal Thatcher’s human side, but it only really serves to turn her life into a series of episodes that attempt to define what she stood for.
The biggest problem with the narrative is that as it jumps around, it really doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. It’s trying to be an emotional portrait of a woman who no longer has the power she had, it’s a biopic of a divisive public figure, it’s a film about a grieving wife. It deals with themes of power, madness, death, loss, politics, sexism in politics, belief in what is right, belief in one’s self, grief, family, the cost of power and probably a few more that I probably don’t remember. The choice of events to go back to are too varied, pretty much warranting their own feature length film and thus leads the film not only to be rather confused, but it also turns these complex events into ones that are oversimplified and lack any emotional or narrative weight.
I suppose there should be some mention of Meryl Streep’s “please please please give me the Oscar” performance. There, that was it. It doesn’t matter how good her performance is - and there were moments when she was fantastic (but I’ve seen better) - it can’t carry a film that’s as weak as this.
It is nothing but pure Oscar bait, trying its best to please everyone but ultimately, it pleases no one. For the emerging middle class of the 1980’s, who might praise Thatcher for what she did and how she helped the country, the film is a soppy love letter that presents her in a way that totally differs from how they remember her. Then for the working class, who endured and rioted against many of her policies (if they put their political bias aside and actually watch it), its reluctance to engage with the political issues and presentation of them simply as ‘events that happened to her’ could (and probably should) be considered a massive insult.
So as the final frames roll, and Maggie ambles away to carry on with her life, we are left with an empty, blue (the amount of blue in this film is practically insulting, YES WE KNOW SHE WAS A CONSERVATIVE) kitchen and hallway, the camera lingers as the credits begin to roll and the image fades to black. That pretty much sums up the entire film - empty and blue and as confused as the aged Maggie appears to be.