A CLEVER dramatic device was stretched beyond its limit in The Iron Lady, the biopic of Margaret Thatcher released today.
Controversy has surrounded the film due to the decision to use Grantham-born Baroness Thatcher’s dementia as the central pillar of the plot, leading to accusations that the script fails to show the former Prime Minister the respect she deserves.
While there’s nothing offensive in the depiction, there’s rather too much emphasis on the fictionalised decline of her mind.
It must be said that Meryl Streep’s performance in the lead role is impressive.
Her famous talent for accent is shown in full, with an uncanny resemblance to the real thing.
But bearing in mind the remarkable events of her political career and wealth of material to choose from, the film lingers for too long on depicting Thatcher’s fading faculties.
As a plot device it provided an effective way of revisiting crucial events from her career - but at times it was deployed a little too heavy-handedly, the writer’s imagination pushing the concept too far.
All the important events are there: struggling against sexism to gain selection for Finchley; gaining the leadership of the Conservative party and steering it victory; the IRA; the Brighton bomb; the miners’ strike; the Falklands; Poll Tax; downfall.
Major incidents from her life appear as vignettes from her fractured memory, accompanied by imaginary dialogues between the aging Baroness and her long-dead husband Dennis.
The depiction of their relationship puts a human face on Thatcher, far removed from her image as the tough politician.
There are fleeting glimpses of Grantham.
The young Margaret is seen to develop much of her political philosophy based on the beliefs of her dad, Alfred Roberts, the proud shopkeeper and Mayor who tells her: “Never run with the crowd. Go your own way.”
Grantham folk are portrayed as slightly grubby, flatcap-wearing, working class folk - listening intently with fear in their eyes as Alderman Roberts hands down his wisdom.
Disconcertingly, and because Grantham is obviously ‘Oop North’ as far as the producers are concerned, everyone had Yorkshire accents. The only thing missing was a whippet.
The movie closes with Thatcher alone in her Belgravia home, a portrait of the mundanity of life after power.
So despite a slightly grating narrative, it’s a powerful portrayal of everything people loved and hated about Thatcher.
Agree or disagree with her policies, there’s something hugely admirable about her determination to continue to do what she thought was right - even in the face of huge opposition.
That philosophy was born right here in Grantham.
• The Iron Lady (12A) is being shown at Reel Cinema, St Catherine’s Road, Grantham. Call 01476 570046 for screening times.
• Review by Bob Hart