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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Ironing Out The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady

Thatcher has a special place in the hearts of the British.  She has devout loyal followers who claim she saved Britain from economic ruin, a modern woman who changed the political landscape and stood her ground to the end.  Others call her an evil woman who demonsied ethnic minorities, single mothers, homosexuals and led a war against the working class, ripped apart mining communities, fuelled international conflict and sent unemployment sky-rocketing.

But in my opinion, to boycott, call for a ban, dislike, distrust, hate a film without seeing it is akin to the backlash from right-wing Christians to ban/boycott Life of Brian or Jerry Springer The Opera.  So I decided to go see the film and make my own mind up.

Thatcher’s entire history of her career is told through flashback, the main character of Thatcher is an old woman, living in the 2009 with dementia.  Denis, her husband, has been dead for 6 years and Thatcher is reduced to a prison in her own home, forgetting names and dawdling around her home.

The film is about a woman struggling with old age, looking back on her life and trying to force the memory of her deceased husband stop haunting her.  The clichéd rousing speeches, the overcoming of obstacles of the 80s are all filmed in bright colours and with an upbeat soundtrack to allow the grey present day appear so much sadder.

It’s like multiple personality syndrome for the woman.  Determined, forceful 80s Iron Lady and sad old 00s out-of-touch slowly dying Mummy.  It’s almost a Jekyll & Hyde, though the monstrous Hyde turning into the demur and waddling Jekyll.  Which one are we watching now?  Oh yes, it’s bright colours and she’s given someone a ticking off, it’s the 80s.  And now?  She’s depressed, must be modern day.

So as far as the politics go, over strikes Labour leader Michael Foot gives a damning account of the state of Britain in the houses of parliament.  Images of angry strikers attacking Thatcher’s car reoccur from time-to-time.  Those opposed to Thatcher are never properly explored, but then it is a film about her history and her mind.

Footage of the 80s varies from the images of glorious post-Falklands Union Jack-splattered patriotism and the stock market swimming in money to rage-fuelled strikes, marches and rallies.  The consequences of Thatcher’s actions and policies are represented through documentation real-life footage of the 80s, allowing the audience to make their own mind up whether Thatcher’s government had a positive or negative effect on the country and people.

One could argue stylistically, the scenes of glory in the 1980s are necessary in order to contrast with Thatcher’s bleak life in 2009.  But the worry is as a by-product of this framing of the film, the scenes of 1980s conquests will leave the audience feeling admiration for Thatcher and sympathy for the current 2012 Conservative party’s Tough Antidotes.

And the film itself is flawed, whilst it tugged at my heart strings at times, it did resort to certain gimmicks here and there.  Chummy Jim Broadbent does his usually chummy role.  And trying to cover Thatcher’s entire 11 sickening years was a tad ambitious, leading to some later major issues and developments in her career being presented via single snapshot scenes. 

We have to understand our real enemies.  To attack a piece of art (admittedly an Oscar-vehicle money-making half-fiction piece of art) simply because we dislike or hate the subject matter or character upon which the film is based forms an automatic blanket of mistrust.  Hate the film based on the film’s failings as a piece of 1hr 45 min fiction and not for the sole reason it is about a person or subject matter engrained within our hearts to hate.

And if the film was a resounding and glorious piece of work which moved me to tears, I would still hate Thatcher, because, like Downfall and Last King of Scotland, this is a piece of fiction employing real-life characters for the purposes of telling a story/making money/winning an Oscar.  We must hate and love within the real world, and theatre/film/literature can inform us of our emotional feelings towards the political landscape, at the end of the day real-world people and real-world events should be out judge of political leaders, not a £5 film on a Friday afternoon.

To finish, if someone talks to me about The Iron Lady and how they admired Thatcher in the film, I will consider it my responsibility to argue against the characterisation of a triumphant leader.  And then I will make them watch antidotes such as Brassed Off, Billy Elliott, Riff-Raff and The Full Monty.

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