Man of Steel on The Iron Lady

Former Prime Minister John Howard wrote a review of the film The Iron Lady that was published in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) last week and I was entertained by this typo where 'retelling' appeared as 'retailing'. It seemed a sly dig at how the film uses a public figure to generate interest in a story that focuses on bigger themes than the career of Margaret Thatcher. The film made me consider that idea that women can have a career or a family and I think this is as much a focus as the actual career of Thatcher.

The more I thought about Howard's review the more I thought he'd missed a lot in the film. I can understand why he wasn't impressed with its portrayal of Thatcher, because The Iron Lady focuses more on how age has inevitably taken a toll on the once formidable politician. Howard mentions more than once the time he'd spent with Margaret and her husband Denis, as well his admiration for her career but I guess the reviewer might also be a bit unsettled by how he could similarly be portrayed. There are parallels to be drawn between both prime ministers -- aside from metal references as Howard was christened a "man of steel" by US president George W. Bush.

Howard argues there's "a broad ideological context in which the film can be viewed" and links it to criticism of Thatcher from "the progressive left," which is a label that probably applies to my political leaning. I left the film with more admiration of Thatcher's achievements than when I entered but ultimately it is a film and the representation of history must fit within a specific narrative.

At uni I learned that all histories are stories and one should be alert to plot devices which make them effective. This is where I think Howard fails as a film reviewer because he criticises the storytelling for being inaccurate when it obviously is looking for a different audience than that of a documentary and needs to shoehorn historical fact into a three act structure. It was interesting to me that the AFR's Review section which featured Howard's review on the front page had a line on the back page that "a great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction" because this also applies to film.

It should be noted there's a broad commercial context in which the film can be viewed too. I'd guess the success of The Queen led to producers cast about for similar subject matter and this contributed to the production of The Iron Lady.