With her representation of a controversial figure, Streep gives us a depiction of a human being suffering from dementia. Critics seem to be caught up on whether the film gives us a heroic portrayal of Thatcher, or they seem to dislike the fact that the film itself does not distinguish between an aggrandized or monstrous view of this woman. Sympathetic or critical view aside, what we get is a depiction of an elderly woman grappling with the ever present ghost of her husband (Jim Broadbent) that triggers memories of an exciting and eventful past. We see the person outside of the spotlight, outside of the political sphere, outside of the “madhouse” if you will. I enjoyed this depiction of Thatcher as human; however, the film is preoccupied with the fact that Thatcher is a woman working and prospering in a predominantly masculine domain, so preoccupied that it is impossible to forget that Thatcher is a woman. Although this feminist approach is intriguing, it is somewhat sloppy. By this I mean that we often get scenes with Thatcher making remarks about the “feminine” men, and her ability to defeat them in all matter of politics. The film stresses the fact that she is a woman and you almost expect Thatcher to approach every debate by bursting out with “I am a woman and therefore am right.” Attacks at her masculine femininity are frequent and transparent. These outbursts of “I am woman” are humourous, but unintelligent. Yes Thatcher is a woman, yes she is accomplished, but these outbursts wherein she dismisses men’s potential do not effectively contribute to a story.
The opening of the film is nicely done, situating Thatcher in a domestic setting in order to establish that the emphasis is not with Thatcher as a public figure, but with Thatcher, old, senile, and unrecognized as she walks the streets. We see an elderly Thatcher buying milk and a newspaper. We see the stages of dementia as she walks the streets home, walking not with purpose or a sense of direction, but with a sense that she is lost. She arrives home to sit down to breakfast with her husband; they discuss the rising cost of milk as other people whisper in the background. We learn that they are arguing over how Thatcher has slipped under the radar and went to buy milk unaccompanied. We move from the dinner table where Thatcher sits with her husband to a woman in the corridor discussing Thatcher’s “getaway” with a police officer, returning to the kitchen table where Thatcher sits alone. From this, we understand that she imagines these moments with her late husband. These scenes with her husband are sentimental, triggering memories relating to how they met, and highlighting poignant moments in her life as a politician. The film is not preoccupied with a biographical overview of Thatcher’s married life, but with her struggle with an apparition of her husband. He is simply a figment of her imagination, a hallucination who taunts her. As prime minister, Thatcher has struggled with men, defeating them throughout her career, and as an old woman, we witness her final struggle with a very important man in her life, her husband, as she attempts to relinquish her dependency on him.
Streep’s acting is phenomenal. As always, she immerses herself in the habits and mannerisms of the character she adopts and delivers a magnificent portrayal worthy of an Oscar nomination and, what I am predicting, an Oscar win. Jim Broadbent is equally as entertaining in his role, ranging from humourous, sentimental, to frightening. The film is a must see, not simply to acknowledge for yourself whether this depiction of Thatcher is accurate, but for its acting at the very least.