By Joseph Willits
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Ahead of this evening's European premiere at the BFI on London's Southbank, here is another opportunity to watch the trailer (ahead of Friday's release) of Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady, starrring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Before any Oscar nominations have been announced, Streep is already the bookies favourite to win Best Actress at the awards on February 26th.
The press has carried both criticism and praise for the film today. Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd has described the portrayal of Thatcher's dementia as "ghoulish", adding to comments previously made by Norman Tebbit, who said Thatcher was never "the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep."
Director Phyllida Lloyd has defended her portrayal of Thatcher's old age, denying it is as "ghoulish" as Hurd suggests:
"We all felt that a portrait of somebody who is experiencing a failure of strength and health and forgetfulness is not a shameful thing to put on the screen. It's something that Meryl [Streep, who plays Lady Thatcher], and Abi Morgan [the writer] and I felt was a really worthwhile exploration".
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Lloyd said the "inspiration" behind Thatcher's portrayal for writer Abi Morgan, was "Carol Thatcher’s book, in which she spoke of her mother’s frailty". This she said, "put this idea of her mother’s memory loss into the public domain. Because it was in the public domain, we wanted to explore the theme of diminishment of power".
Carol Thatcher, in her book, A Swim-On Part In The Goldfish Bowl, wrote:
"I remember the moment it first hit me that my mother's memory was no longer the extraordinary phenomenon it had been all my life. The realisation came as a thunderbolt … Mum's situation began to dominate my life but I couldn't bring myself to see such films as Iris, about novelist Iris Murdoch's slide into dementia, or Away From Her, starring Julie Christie as a septuagenarian who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and moves into a care home."
Speaking today on BBC Radio 4's World At One, Lloyd also revealed that Thatcher's family refused an early invitation to a screening of The Iron Lady.
Writing in his column in today's Evening Standard, Matthew d'Ancona writes that he can understand some of the offence taken at the portrayal of dementia in the film, but that such an emphasis is "a structural ploy which enables Lloyd to escape the constraints of linear narrative (the Brighton bomb of 1984, for instance, is recalled before the Falklands war of 1982)".
"The Iron Lady is a profoundly important revisionist tract. It lifts Thatcher from the zone of contestation where she has prowled for more than 40 years (it was 1971 when she was first called "milk snatcher") and elevates her to the pantheon of national heroines, above mundane controversy and the potshots of routine politics.
As such, it is a deeply counter-cultural movie, swimming against a hitherto hostile tide of music, satire, art and books that has roared into shore for more than a quarter of a century. To name but a few examples: one thinks of the brutal caricature in Spitting Image; Mark Lawson's book, Bloody Margaret; the phenomenally successful stage version of Billy Elliot; the Beat's ska classic, Stand Down Margaret; and the entire "alternative comedy'' movement of the Eighties."