Britflicks

The Iron Lady

While almost everyone agrees that Meryl Streep gives a phenomenal performance in this film, it’s taken a beating from reviewers for not being an hysterical anti-Thatcher tirade, for not portraying her as a hideous, baby-eating monster. Which is not to say that it glorifies her either. In some ways it’s quite balanced. The problem is not that it veers to one side or the other of the political divide, but rather that it has very little to say about the politics at all, which could be seen as a slight flaw in a film about such a controversial and memorable political figure.

What we get instead is a film about a lonely old woman rattling around her house, hallucinating arguments with her dead husband, and occasionally flashing back to her heyday as Prime Minister. This is actually a refreshingly original approach, and I almost wish they’d pushed farther in this direction into black comedy/psychological horror. But of course they have to give us a potted history, a grossly simplified greatest hits package of poll tax riots, miners’ strikes, IRA bombs and Falklands War montages, most of it without any kind of context or analysis. I even got the impression that they mentioned the IRA just so that they’d have the excuse to throw in a couple of explosions.

But there are some effective and amusing scenes, and it deserves the two Oscars for which it’s been nominated: Best Actress and Best Make-up.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I haven’t read John Le Carré’s novel, but recently I tried to watch the 1979 BBC TV adaptation on DVD. Really, I tried. I don’t have a problem with long, slow dramas, and I realise that this is Le Carré, not Ian Fleming, but this was a bit extreme. I made it through one and a half episodes before deciding that life’s too short. So when a friend suggested we see the recent film version I was a little wary, but I figured that a two hour version of the story was bound to be at least slightly snappier than the seven hour version.

It was interesting to see where they’d tightened the storytelling a little, and to compare the casting. I think Beryl Reid was better in the original than Kathy Burke in the same role in the film, but Tom Hardy makes for a better Ricky Tarr – more vulnerable and nervy – than the original’s Hywel Bennet. Gary Oldman’s almost as good as everyone says he is, although I think there’s a fine line here between underplaying and just not doing very much.

The plot jumps around quite a bit, without necessarily telling where or when you are, so it was a challenge to keep up, but I did manage. My main problem with the plot was the final reveal. Without getting into spoilers, we’re told at the start that one of four men is the mole, and at the end they just point to one of them and say “It was him”, which is anticlimactic to say the least. And since we’ve been told little or nothing about any of these men in the preceding two hours, there’s no emotional impact to the revelation. Later we find out some of the characters’ secrets and it add some much-needed dimension, but surely this stuff would have been better placed earlier in the film? Plus, as my friend remarked, the “Ooh, wasn’t 1970s Britain grim and grey and depressing” atmosphere is laid on a bit thick.