Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Iron Lady (2011)

"Oh Maggie, Maggie what have we done!?"  So goes the last line from The Post War Dream, a song from the The Final Cut, Pink Floyd's last studio collaboration back in 1982.  The line is a direct reference to Margaret Thatcher's decision that same year to go to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.  Not long after, the Soviets nicknamed Maggie the "Iron Lady".

Thirty years later, British film director Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the most financially successful British film ever released (Mamma Mia!), unveils the biographical story of The Iron Lady.  The story as told by Lloyd weaves in and out of an aging Thatcher's point of view and stream of consciousness, almost to the point of introducing dementia as a whole new subplot.  For those of us over 40, the quasi-modern-time historical context of the movie created a bit of an Alzheimer moment for ourselves: was I aware back then that she had been elected as the first woman prime minister in the UK?  Did she really make into the 90's as prime minister?   Is she still alive??

Meryl Streep plays the part of Lady Thatcher not-surprisingly well, almost adding fuel to the stream of consciousness. As the timeline goes back and forth, we begin to wonder if we're not at times watching a documentary. While most of the audience may recognize Streep's name, the rest of the characters are played by relatively unknown actors. Between Streep's fair-enough likeness to Thatcher, and the unfamiliar cast, the film sometimes plays with the audience's collective mind as it appears to waltz in and out of a docudrama genre.

A few days after watching the film, I came across a commentary of The Iron Lady in the Harvard Business Review. Given the source of the review, it was not surprising that the focus was on Thatcher's management style, how effective it was, and how questionable it became when she was unable to evolve with the times as the 90's rolled in. But Herminia Ibarra, Harvard professor and author of the article, actually put some soul into the commentary beyond a pragmatic, ivy league management lesson.

Ibarra recalls a mid-90's BBC documentary about Thatcher, when the former prime minister is asked about her legendary aversion to consensus... "Flashing her famous blue eyes, she answers in measured tones: 'If you look at the great religions — and the Judeo-Christian religion is really at the heart — would you have those great guidelines if Jesus had said, Brothers, I believe in consensus?After a long and piercing look, she answers her own rhetorical question: 'Of course not, you'd have nothing of value.' "

That might give an insight of how Maggie rose to power. But how did she "lose it?" Well, that's when the "aha" moment sets in. Once again in Ibarra's words, "Thatcher's story is a textbook case on how to get power and, later, how to lose it... For as we all know, what got you here won't get you there." She concludes her commentary by saying "...if we are successful, the hard part kicks in: we come to the point where we have to reinvent ourselves. What must we keep and what must we shed in order to advance and grow?"

Well said.   Although on the matter of power I might feel compelled to put it as follows: it's hard to lose something you've never really had.   And that may very well be my takeaway from the story of The Iron Lady: the reason why we must reinvent ourselves, why someone as smart as Maggie should have known better towards the end of her mandate, is the very essence of evolution itself.   At the time the Iron Curtain came crashing down, ironically thanks in part to Ronnie and The Iron Lady herself, so ended the notion that sustainable power could be had by a single mere mortal, kingdom, or empire.

Film Trailer:

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