Suspension of disbelief is frequently essential for cinematic enjoyment. I am willing to believe that a man can fly. Or that a man can become genetically spliced with a fly. But that Margaret Thatcher has a conscience? That’s a stretch too far.
I was setting myself up to be angry at this film for humanising a woman who is largely perceived as one of Britain’s greatest villains (or heroines, should you not remember the 1980s). However, I did not quite get what I expected. The film was hugely disappointing for completely unpredicted reasons.
This film is not to be thought of as a biopic of Margaret Thatcher. It isn’t. Yes, it covers important moments in her career, via largely chronological flashbacks, as well as selected reactions to her decisions- both reconstruction and archive news footage. But approximately 50% of the film is just a lonely old woman pottering about the house, talking to her dead husband or lying awake in bed. In short, it’s exceptionally dull, and unnecessarily so. Minutes are wasted while she butters toast, walks across a room, or washes a teacup. It doesn’t make her any more human or vulnerable, and grinds the film’s pace to a near crawl.
From a directorial standpoint, it’s all very well-made, and a far more serious cinematic experience than you may expect from the director of “Mamma Mia!”. But don’t expect to get much of an education regarding her rise/fall to/from power. You’d be better off hunting down old episodes of Spitting Image.
Neither her son Mark, ally Norman Tebbitt, nor her most fervent political opponent Neil Kinnock make much of an appearance (if at all). We are treated to Olivia Colman’s (surprisingly accurately voiced) Carol Thatcher- though I’ll forever be disappointed that they didn’t go for the obvious choice of Monty Python’s Terry Jones.
Which brings us to the real point of all this- Meryl Streep. 30 years since her last Oscar win, she’s averaged one nomination every other year. This year will be no exception. Streep doesn’t merely do a good impression of Margaret Thatcher. She becomes Margaret Thatcher. And in a way that feels completely genuine, unlike Michelle Williams’s gimmicky Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn”. Once or twice I must admit I did get a slight Jennifer Saunders vibe, but the performance (in particular the accent) never slips for a moment.
Fortunately, the film doesn’t make any attempt to change minds. Whatever you felt about Thatcher beforehand, you’ll likely feel as you come out. I certainly felt my blood increasingly boil as the film neared its end.