Monday, 21 April 2014

Margaret (2009)

Forget Meryl Streep's The Iron Lady, for me 2009's Margaret is is the best biographical drama concerning the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher.



Of course it helps that I really admire Lindsay Duncan as an actress. 

Admittedly she's too beautiful and in real life is mercifully way to the left of Thatcher's politics, but she's an extremely capable actress who manages to make Thatcher a believable and three dimensional person rather than a caricature or impersonation. In both her hectoring and her seductiveness of her cabinet she captures something of the countries most important PM since Churchill beautifully. There's also something of the psychotic in her portrayal, how she switches from killer lioness, chewing up and spitting out various members of her cabinet, to a figure approaching sympathy - though that said my sympathy largely remains for her family who she seems to largely ignore, except for the eternally errant Mark whom she clearly doted on. What is at its clearest though is that here was a woman who came along at just the right time to topple Heath's boys club regime (and in just this past week, when John Bercow admitted that some female MP's confided in him about their steering clear of PM Questions because of its raucous alpha male tendencies,  it feels like such a tide needs turning again) but who didn't appreciate when the time was right to bow out herself fifteen years later. 

Written by Richard Cottan and directed by James Kent, the play moves from Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech (well played by superb mimic and underrated actor John Sessions) to her ultimate defeat but, interwoven are flashbacks of her career commencing in her challenge for the leadership in 1975 with Ted Heath (a spot on cameo from semi-retired actor Nigel Le Vaillant who once set female pulses racing as a driven doctor in both Casualty and Dangerfield) and through to her victory in the 1979 general election.



Kent gathers together a perfect rogues gallery of a cast, some of whom had previously appeared in 2002's excellent The Falklands Party and at least two would go on to star in The Iron Lady (albeit in different roles in each of the three biopics) There's Iain McDiarmid is Denis, ever loyal, ever waiting and ever with a Scotch at hand, Kevin McNally makes for a wonderful Kenneth Clarke, Roy Marsden a suitably bullish Norman Tebbit, Michael Cochrane as a boisterous foul mouthed Alan Clarke, Philip Jackson a bluff Bernard Ingham, Robert Hardy as wily Willie Whitelaw, James Fox as the faithful Charles Powell, Oliver Cotton swaggers as Michael Heseltine whilst Michael Maloney makes for a calculating and duplicitous John Major.

Despite weighing in at almost two hours and with an outcome we all know from the off, Margaret remains a suspenseful and engrossing production. However, one can't help but wonder if it may have worked better as a mini series, one that fully explored all the years of her controversial reign.


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