9:30am Wednesday 11th January 2012
One can’t find a single fault in her; the other can’t think of a nice word to say about her. So put together one of Margaret Thatcher’s most ardent admirers, county council leader Keith Mitchell, and one of her biggest critics, trade unionist Gawain Little, and you get one of the oddest cinema dates Oxford has ever seen. Accompanied by an Oxford Mail chaperone, the pair both agreed to review The Iron Lady, the new big screen biopic of her life, at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho. They disagree on almost everything, but would they agree on the merits of the film...
Keith Mitchell, 65, Conservative Lader of Oxfordshire County Council: What I watched tonight was some great acting, particularly from Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher) and Olivia Coleman (Carol Thatcher) but it was not a great film. What it did well was to tell the story of her early life and the role Alderman Roberts played in his daughter’s development. It showed the equally critical role of Denis Thatcher as a real love match and constant support; the down-to-earth style of daughter Carol and the awful indignity of bereavement and ageing.
What I thought it did less well were the political bits in the middle. Scenes in the House of Commons showing MT as the only woman were a bit unreal although clearly designed to make a point. I don’t think her dressing down of Geoffrey Howe in Cabinet happened quite like that and I’m sure she was not in the car park when Airey Neave was blown up by an IRA bomb. The film took liberties with the truth to make the point about how this brave, conviction politician took on a complacent establishment and trounced them until, of course, in then end, these spineless men turned on her and ousted her from office.
It was always going to be impossible to capture this fascinating woman’s character in just 105 minutes. The film tried to do it by squeezing too much political history into a series of not always plausible flashbacks. However, the strength of her character, even in old age, shone through and Meryl Streep’s portrayal was electrifying and magnificent.
Gawain Little, 31, president of Oxford & District TUC, Assistant Secretary of Oxfordshire NUT: This film is an odd mix. The acting of the main roles, especially Meryl Streep as Thatcher, is stunning and the scenes set in the present day have a real sense of human drama. These are interspersed with flashbacks of her life, which are very much shown through her eyes. This, combined with the brevity with which these episodes are covered – almost like a series of clips or short trailers for a film – means that we find out very little about the issues involved. This lack of context, along with historical inaccuracies such as the complete lack of other female politicians in the film, give it a slightly unreal feel and ensure that the voices of those who opposed Thatcher go totally unheard. They are reduced to a series of angry crowd scenes and an odd caricature of Michael Foot.
Meanwhile, Thatcher makes a number of speeches, always to stirring music, about standing firm and never compromising. The problem is that we never really see the consequences of her actions, or indeed get more than a glimpse of her own politics.
The major exception to this is the scene, towards the end, where the cabinet are discussing the poll tax.
Thatcher is unable to understand why people won’t support a tax which is the same for the poorest of the poor as for a multi-millionaire. The film is engaging in parts but overall a lost opportunity to paint the real picture of the woman who destroyed communities and changed the face of Britain forever.
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