Margaret Review: Under the skin of the Iron Lady

February 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

354margaret-300x210Margaret:  BBC2, Thursday 26th February, 9.00pm Alert me

Whatever your opinion of old Mags, there’s no denying that she was a fascinating woman.  In this two hour historical drama, we get a rare glimpse of the woman behind the politician, from her rise to office, to the dissent in her own cabinet…er…pretty much when it all went wrong for her.

What was characteristic about Thatch was her downright indomitability, that quality of pure bloody mindedness that propelled her from a middle ranking Tory politician to arguably the most dominant Prime Minister this country has ever seen (…thoughts?).

It’s to Lindsay Duncan’s credit that she manages to portray not only the overwhelming self-confidence with which we’re so familiar but also the vulnerability of Thatcher, how underneath the skin of the Iron Lady, there was a woman who was occasionally as human as the rest of us. What’s clear was that her strength of will and personality was astonishing, Thatcher was not only fighting against the prejudices of being a woman in a male-dominated arena, but eventually against the very cabinet that once supported her.  And through it all, she had this conviction that she was right all the time.

There are problems.  The music score is far too melodramatic, too invasive for this kind of drama.  Occasionally it feels like an episode of 24, thundering along like a Hollywood blockbuster, Thatcher striding with her party in tow, dissenters exclaiming “She’s back!?  You half expect Jack Bauer to burst through the House of Commons window. This is a mistake; her mere presence is enough to dominate the room, it doesn’t need enhancing.  And at times, Duncan’s Thatcher seems too blustering and not the subtle and cutting politician she could have been.

The star-studded supporting cast are excellent, from Ian MacDiarmid’s tender Denis Thatcher, the vociferous Alan Clark (Michael Cochran), the drunk and ineffectual Peter Morrison (Rupert Vansittart) and Michael Maloney’s quietly calculating John Major, waiting in the wings for his chance at history.  John Sessions is particularly fantastic as Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe, delivering the fatal thrust to Thatcher with his resignation speech which acted as the catalyst for her downfall.

The flashes of personal insight are particularly well done; the perpetual support of husband Denis, “They scent blood luv?, her fussing over Mark Thatcher’s scuffed shoes and her speech to her housekeeper Crawfie about how her father taught her to fight like a boy, not like a girl.

It’s in these moments that Margaret reveals the person behind the persona and reaches places that other dramas of this ilk haven’t reached before.

Jez Sands

Dave says:

Lindsay Duncan’s portrayal of Mrs T is astonishing. She has captured her essence and personality without it seeming in the slightest bit a comic parody, which with over-impersonating and over-dramatising of the script it could have so easily become. Supporting roles are also beautifully played, the piece is satisfyingly a-polictical and a triumph of casting, set and costume …. totally absorbing.