REVIEW: “The Iron Lady”

The Iron Lady feels like the best TV movie ever. In structure, length, content and technique, it feels much more like an excellent entry into the Masterpiece Theatre canon and a stand-alone feature film. If you go in expecting a sweeping, diaper-to-Depends biopic of Margaret Thatcher, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment; if you think it’ll be like The Queen, focusing on a single incident to illuminate a greater understanding of character, you don’t get that either. Rather, you’re treated to a performance by Meryl Streep so hypnotic that you are unaware you are watching a performance at all. Some roles draw attention to how complete they are; this one oddly doesn’t. It’s just Thatcher, through and through.

That’s reason enough to see the film, which is otherwise a disappointment. We first see Thatcher in her dotage, mistakable for a bag lady, as she drifts in and out of dementia: Forgetting she is no longer prime minister of Great Britain, thinking husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), long-dead, is still with her. But things — radio broadcasts, old suits, everything except a madeleine dipped in tea — trigger her recollections, in surprisingly linear fashion: Her early campaign for Parliament, her development from a shrill housewife in pearls to a deep-throated leader of the Right; her eventually ouster when her bullying reached intolerable proportions, even among her devoted followers.

But aside from broad statements about her beliefs and too many scenes of protestors attacking her limo to show her controversial nature, the film, directed by Phyllida Law (Mamma Mia), is thin on actual politics. In one scene, No. 10 Downing St. is firebombed, nearly killing Maggie and Denis. I recall nothing about this historically, but aside from showing it, the film never even tries to explain it: Was it the IRA or some other group? What exactly about Thatcher’s policies warranted this particular attack? The treatment of such matters is staggeringly superficial. (Her relationship with Reagan is barely mentioned.)

The Iron Lady does do a good job early on at portraying the then-prevailing political hierarchy of England as male-centric — a pond of fleshy-necked bullfrogs bloviating about how things need to be done. Maggie actually did things, not just talk about them, though you’ll learn more details of her politics watching Billy Elliot than this movie.

Still, the hype about Streep is deserved. She’s excellent playing Thatcher from 40s to 80s, showing her micro-managing habits that drove even her children crazy. It’s a sympathetic portrayal not because she’s so nice, but because she’s so human. Iron Lady? No, she was, at heart, still flesh and bone.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Excellent analysis of Log Cabin’s DADT brief to the Supreme Court

Via TowleRoad:

At the center of LCR’s argument to the Supreme Court is that the Ninth Circuit “abused its discretion” when it granted a stay based on incorrect reasoning and a refusal to use the proper legal test for stays. An “abuse of discretion” is a tough standard to meet simply because appellate courts have discretion to issue stays. But what they don’t have discretion to do is to grant stays without requiring the party seeking the stay to prove, among other things, a “likelihood of success on the merits.” All that means is that in order to properly get the stay at the Ninth Circuit, the government had to prove that it was likely to win its appeal on the merits, likely to keep DADT as good law. The Ninth Circuit, LCR argues, didn’t really do that. Nor did the Ninth Circuit engage in the required balancing of harms. Before getting a stay, the government was also supposed to show that any hardship to the military or the government if there were no stay would outweigh any hardship to LCR with a stay. Finally, LCR points out that the Ninth Circuit accepted the government’s injury argument based on mere speculation rather than actual evidence.

LCR’s argument makes a lot of sense to me, especially since the Ninth Circuit apparently justified its stay on Judge Phillips’s decision being at odds with other court decisions on DADT and generally failed to require the government to justify a stay. A stay is an example of “extraordinary relief,” meaning that you don’t get it just because you want it, you have to prove a lot — meet a “heavy burden” — to get it. At the Ninth Circuit, the government arguably did not meet that burden.




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Excellent summary of the Prop 8 case

From the NYT. It’s very good. Read it.




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—  John Wright