The reviewers warned me – don’t see The Iron Lady, the new movie starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Kelly Jane Torrance of the Washington Examiner mourns, “The climax of this movie about one of the most important people – not just women, but people – of the 20th century comes when Margaret Thatcher decides to throw out her dead husband’s clothes.” James Verniere of the Boston Herald asks, “Mamma mia! Why would you turn the story of Margaret Thatcher into a tale of a sweet, dotty old lady having a love affair with her beloved late husband?” Virginia Postrel excoriates the filmmakers: “These supposedly feminist filmmakers could have portrayed Thatcher as an ambitious woman who had nothing to feel guilty about. Instead they chose to inject guilt where it did not belong. They obscured Thatcher’s public accomplishments in a fog of private angst. The portrait of dementia isn’t the problem. The way the film uses old age to punish a lifetime of accomplishment is.”
Even the Washington Post, the New York Times (“You are left with the impression of an old woman who can’t quite remember who she used to be and of a movie that is not so sure either.”), and the New Yorker wonder why you would make a movie about one of the most influential and controversial political figures, the first woman to lead a Western country, the woman who arguably saved Great Britain and helped Ronald Reagan win the Cold War, and then spend half the film depicting her as a confused old lady with hallucinations.
Nevertheless, Thatcher is indeed a compelling figure, and the commercials and trailers showed Streep portraying her as a leader of conviction and strength. So I ignored the critics and bought a ticket. And the film was slightly better than I expected. It absolutely wastes about 40 percent of its time on the imagined scenes of a confused old lady. How much more rewarding it would have been to see a great actress play a pioneering political figure rising to power, leading her country, and facing opposition from both friends and enemies. Instead, we get a few vignettes of that, about half the film’s running time. So it wasn’t terrible, just a lost opportunity.
Interestingly, the marketing team at Weinstein Company seems to understand the appeal of a film on Margaret Thatcher far better than the writer and director. They know what the audience wants. Take a look at the trailer:
You’ll notice that there’s not a single shot of the old-lady part of the movie. Instead, it’s two fast minutes of Margaret Thatcher in action. Including a final scene (“Gentlemen, shall we join the ladies”) that harks back to an earlier scene of Thatcher on her way up, dramatizes her uniqueness – and is actually not in the film.
So I have a suggestion: Often the DVD of a film will include the film as released to theaters and also a “Director’s Cut” that reflects the director’s own artistic choices that the studio may have blocked. I recommend that the DVD of The Iron Lady include a “Marketer’s Cut” that omits all the old-lady scenes and just shows us Margaret Thatcher the political figure. And if there’s good material like the “join the ladies” scene left on the cutting-room floor, then the marketers could add that back in. In that case, I’d buy the DVD. In fact, someone should start a Facebook campaign: “Put a Marketer’s Cut of The Iron Lady on the DVD.”
By the way, Mitt Romney should not want Republicans to watch this movie: It will remind them of what it means to be inspired by a political leader.