The Iron Lady

A friend of mine was excited to see "The Iron Lady" because she admires Margaret Thatcher. My friend does not so much admire her policies, but rather the way she made her way in a government of men. My friend points out that people are usually unable to separate her politics from her sex. In all of this movie's cold pity, it also fails to do anything but reify an unexamined impression. Here her political decisions are not decisions, but the collateral damage of a psyche that demanded of its bearer to, as my brother says of Hilary Clinton, have a bigger penis than the men. (His view of Clinton as a woman so obsessed with one-upping male politicians that she ends up more monstrous is this script's view of Thatcher.)

The movie's crude psychoanalysis of Margaret starts early. Giggled at by girls her age (literally there is a scene in which they walk by her father's shop, glancing over at her and giggling as if we're in Constance and Margaret has just received a damning blast), teenaged Margaret becomes entrenched. After all, although nobody else does, her father loves her more for her ungirlish ambition. When she is accepted to Oxford, her father warmly congratulates her. Her mother, washing the dishes, says that her hands are still wet. She doesn't bother to dry them, turns back to the dishes, and the script has suddenly explained Margaret's life. Before Margaret agrees to become Thatcher she sums up her need to not become a housewife by telling her future husband "I do not want to die washing a teacup." (She does not, but there is one drawn out scene of her washing a teacup as a widow, during which I half expected her to keel over from the force of the movie's need for poetic resonance.)

Throughout the movie the lack of her mother's love is reiterated. She is shown hating every other woman who walks on screen. She ignores her daughter and swoons over her son. "I always have preferred the company of men."

The most egregious scene is in a meeting of the cabinet. She explodes at the president for a typo in the agenda. The men silently gape at her raving. The scene keeps cutting away to shots of her looking malevolently at the ceiling. Someone in the audience asked "is this real?" (The alternative being that it's in her head, like her dead husband.) Wrenching her body, she finally wails "you're all so weak! So weak." The body language of her outburst is about as subtle as a silent film. I would not have been surprised had she begun skulking around the government halls like an animal, hunched over, fingers clawed.

When she sends Britain off to get back the Falkland Islands, she has ceased being depicted as a person, and we are now only allowed to see madness. Why does she decide to go into the Falklands when, as the President (played by Anthony Head) tells her, the country can't afford it? Penis-envy gone wild, obviously. Cynicism about people's motives in politics is usually a gas, but this is lazy. The movie may as well have been titled "The Crazy Bitch". The effort to show her humanity has deprived her of it.

If I'm to watch an unyielding woman hell-bent on securing power at whatever cost, how about one who is judged insane by the other characters, not by the screenwriter. In other words, give me Patty Hewes in "Damages," not some old bullshit of a case-study served up as Margaret Thatcher.

16 January 2012