Three very different perspectives on the extraordinary political life of Margaret Thatcher: the first depicts her persistence in breaking the glass ceiling of the male-dominated Tory party; the second, her deft management of an international crisis; and the third, her political assassination at the hands of her perfidious cabinet. Since each of these portrayals differs from the other, I shall discuss each film individually.
*** "The Long Walk to Finchley" gives us a light-hearted take on young Margaret Roberts' determination to stand for a seat in the House of Commons. On the whole I enjoyed the film. Andrea Riseborough nails the voice to such an extent that her portrayal sometimes slips into parody. And, it seems that parody is what the writers may have had in mind. Sometimes, in fact, it seemed as if the story of the Tory politician had been scripted by the members of the opposing Labour party, because Maggie comes off as a shrill tartar, who uses any means--including marrying wealthy Dennis Thatcher--in order to be put through law school to better her chances of being selected as a candidate (The arrival of their twins seems like an inconvenience.). Samuel West as Ted Heath emerges as a superannuated Public School twit who would not be out of place at the Drones Club with Bertie Wooster; and Geoffrey Palmer, with a well-bread sneer, huffs and puffs as the incumbent candidate for Finchley, who is standing down at the next election, but not before he sinks to skullduggery to keep 'that harpy' out of office.
I would have preferred the writers and director to have played it straight, since the scenario deals with serious issues, such as the near impossibility of a woman in the 1950s being taken seriously as a politician. She not only had to fight prejudice and sleazy tricks from the Old Boys' Club, but she also had to answer continual questions about how she could possibly sit in the House of Commons, when she ought to be on her feet in the house of Thatcher, taking care of her husband and her children. I have never been a supporter of Mrs Thatcher or her policies, but I quite resented the slightly snide portrayal in the guise of comedy, which implied that she was actually an unprincipled conniver as well as a bad parent.
***** "The Falklands Play" is a very different cup of tea. Patricia Hodge is formidable in her role, as a woman not only in charge, but also in utter control, managing the crisis when Argentina attempted to claim the Falkland islands (a British protectorate since 1832). We see Margaret Thatcher at the pinnacle of her career, managing a war--well aware of the consequences, and, at the same time, stricken by the loss of life, when the casualty lists come in. Hodge, a consummate actress, does not emulate any of Thatcher's characteristic speech patterns, but she nevertheless convinces us: in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher's statesmanship and her use of diplomacy (war being the final option); in her anger on behalf of the British islanders; and in her sincerity when writing personal letters of condolence to the families of every service man killed in action. Even though we know the outcome of the Falklands War, the film is compelling in its suspense as the negotiations unfold.
***** (I'd give this seven stars, if I could!) "Margaret" is like the final act of a Greek tragedy; the film excels because of the astounding performance of Lindsay Duncan, who endows Margaret Thatcher with a very human dimension. We also get a more realistic and sympathetic view of her family life. Yes, she is iron willed at the Dispatch Boxes in the House, but we see her at her most vulnerable, as she is toppled from the pinnacle of power, falling victim to the manoeuvres for supremacy among members of her own cabinet, including Michael Heseltine, who wields the political dagger for his own benefit, and John Major who passively reaps the reward of the Party leadership, becoming her successor at the next general election.
Lindsay Duncan, whose portrayal is three-dimensional, reserves her 'Margaret voice' for speeches in the House of Commons; there is, in fact, quite an amusing scene in a flashback, when she is training with a speech therapist/acting coach, before a general election, to modulate her voice so that she sounds like an ordinary member of the electorate (Apparently one of the problems with her male cabinet was that she tended to lecture them like a school mistress.). Duncan's initial portrayal of the dedicated Prime Minister as both steadfast and robust, renders her unsuccessful attempt at holding back tears as she reads her resignation to her cabinet all the more moving. As she pulls herself together and looks around the table at members of the cabinet, who dare not look her in the eye, she achieves an ironic dignity as she thanks every one of her ministers for his continued support.
Each of the films has subtitles, so not one word will be lost. It may be helpful for American viewers look up Margaret Thatcher's career and the so-called Night of the Long Knives, on Wikipedia. Also, BBC's excellent Democracy Live Website might be helpful for watching and understanding the workings of the House of Commons.