Thursday, February 26, 2009

Margaret: A Review

I can't decide if I enjoyed that or not. In some ways it was a gross caricature, in others it was a pretty accurate portrayal of a political assassination. The trouble with political dramas based on real events is that they inevitably involve a large degree of exaggeration - because, after all, they have to be dramatic.

Some of the characterisations in this drama were superb. Who would have thought that John Sessions would be able to play Geoffrey Howe with any degree of accuracy. He even got the voice spot on. The actor who played Heseltine was also manically on the money. Others were less unconvincing. To have the suave Lord Ashfordley from Heartbeat cast as the red faced (and many other things besides...) Peter Morrison was a joke.

The flashbacks worked very well, and as a bit of a student of this period of Conservative history, I think it was actually very accurate in the way it portrayed many of the events leading up to Mrs T's departure. But I am not sure it added much to our understanding of them. It was irritating to see Ted Heath in a luxurious Leader of the Opposition's office, when in reality that office is nothing of the sort. It was irritating to see only 16 chairs around the Cabinet table, when in reality there were more than 20. The rooms depicted in the Palace of Westminster bore absolutely no resemblance to the real ones. But perhaps I am quibbling too much.

Lindsay Duncan's performance as Margaret Thatcher was in some ways quite amazing. She grew into her character as the programme went on, but there was always a feeling that she was hamming it up a bit. Some of the rows and temper tantrums were just totally OTT. If some of the other characters hadn't been so accurately portrayed, maybe this wouldn't have mattered, but somehow it did. It was, to be sure, a sympathetic performance from Duncan, and perhaps for the general viewer, it was that which did indeed provide something new. It allowed people to empathise with Margaret Thatcher in a way they had perhaps never done before. I suspect even some on the left felt a pang of sympathy, albeit momentarily. I'll be genuinely interested to see what Tom Harris made of it.

I don't know what I was expecting from this programme, but whatever it was, I am writing this feeling slightly disappointed.

32 comments:

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

The actor who played Heseltine was also manically on the money.

I thought they'd accidentally cast a spot-on David Owen lookalike and only then realised they had the wrong man so dyed his hair!

Chris said...

What struck me most was the unerring way in which the whole screenplay got that it was 'Margaret versus men in suits' for the whole of her career. I was pleased to see Peter Morrison getting the contempt he deserved (I lived on Islay, owned by his father, John Morrison, for some years, and if ever there were two MPs who only got in because their father was a Tory grandee, they were Peter Morrison and his brother.) I was very sorry that neither Alan Clarke's nor Frank Field's visits at the last were included for (a) comic relief and (b) political integrity. As I've already said on another post, I thoughht Linsday Duncan was fantastic. The actor who played Tim Renton, who I met at a Scottish Arts Council Reception where he was depping for Chas and Di (story of my life) was an uncanny lookalike - which is more than can be said for the actor who played Tebbit.

anonaLon said...

It was interesting to watch but Portillo's documentary last night on BBC2 was infinitely superior - and that was "only" a documentary.

We need someone like Mrs Thatcher in 2009 to sort out the current mess in the UK.

Portillo on Thatcher: The Lady's Not for Spurning

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b009223q

Events dear boy, events said...

These dramatisations very rarely add anything and tend to disappoint.

Much better to wait for the biography's of the various players to come out. Only then can a proper appreciation be made.

Paul Burgin said...

"The flashbacks worked very well, and as a bit of a student of this period of Conservative history, I think it was actually very accurate in the way it portrayed many of the events leading up to Mrs T's departure. But I am not sure it added much to our understanding of them. It was irritating to see Ted Heath in a luxurious Leader of the Opposition's office, when in reality that office is nothing of the sort. It was irritating to see only 16 chairs around the Cabinet table, when in reality there were more than 20. The rooms depicted in the Palace of Westminster bore absolutely no resemblance to the real ones. But perhaps I am quibbling too much."

As someone who shares your stickler for accuracy, I was unimpressed by the exterior of Chequers. Looked nothing like the place!
But overall very good drama. It reminded me of why I respected and disliked Margaret Thatcher in equal measure

Bob said...

Agreed. There was something slightly hammy, slightly cheesy, about the whole thing. A curate's omelette, perhaps. I'm not sure it added anything that we didn't already know.

DaDon said...

Really enjoyed it. Thought most of the performances were excellent, particularly Ms Duncan's, and contrary to many views on here I thought it had enormous subtlety and nuance. So what if some of the location detail was wrong? To the average viewer it will have been extremely illuminating.

Chris said...

The other post I referred to has been deleted by Iain 'can't take the heat, but it's my kitchen' Dale.

Timothy Belmont said...

John Sessions was uncannily like Sir Geoffrey Howe; he fitted the role perfectly.

Was there any truth in the scene where she told him to fetch her shawl? Or was simply a bit of exaggeration to reflect her attitude towards him?

Tim

Dick the Prick said...

I'd not heard of the writer. Lynsey Duncan's always worth the entrance fee - GBH & Traffick are 2 of my all time favourites.

Mike Law said...

As a dramatisation it wasn't half-bad, but I agree that it never added to any knowledge of the events portrayed.

Mike Rouse said...

Same here, Iain. I wasn't chuffed with Duncan's performance. In Frost/Nixon Frank Langhella just becomes Nixon and in The Long Walk to Finchley you see Angela Risborough become a young Thatcher, but Lindsay Duncan's performance, to me anyway, didn't become Thatcher as much as she could have. Hamming it up, going through the motions, all these phrases come to mind. It was a competent performance by a talented actor, but failed to draw me in.

And finally, I enjoyed the performance by Ian McDiarmid as Dennis Thatcher, but was always just waiting for him to extend his hand and fire lightening at a young Jedi and talk of the dark side of the force.

eventsdearboyevents said...

As someone not too familiar with the era the film portrayed I found it quite compelling. It really gave you a sense of how they all turned on her and how brutal politics can get. There was the odd bit of comedy too which fitted in nicely.

I wasn't familiar with all the names but Sessions as Howe was brilliant - almost stole the show. Almost brought a tear to my eye when he gave his speech. Duncan was a pretty good Thatcher. Heseltine a highlight too.

Overall a descent dramatisation. Flashbacks were a nice touch, reminded me of Lost.

troymolloy said...

For me the worst bits were the scenes in the Chamber; looked like a soundstage, deadly silence when anyone was speaking, completely wrong acoustics... and from the sound of it only about 50 MPs.

eventsdearboyevents said...

Oh, I quite liked Maloney's Major too - quite a scheming little git. Wisdom teeth my arse!

St Helens said...

Iain - Maybe you are to close/obsessed to Thatcher it to appreciate the drama.

I am someone who to be perfectly honest ahted everything she stood for - that said I was moved by this portrial and my feelings afterwards were to have to admire her tenacity and balls if nothing else.

I thought the actress played her superbly well but then the same actress played Myra Hindley with great acclaim too!

Shirking From Home said...

Get over it Iain.

Richard Abbot said...

The Emperor playing Denis! I was waiting for him to say to Heseltine 'You will now pay the price for your lack of vision...' before unleashing his force lightning!
And what was going on with John Major - surely not nearly as shifty in real life?

Jonathan Cook said...

Throughout the programme I couldn't help draw parallels between the Tory and Labour approaches to topple a leader.

Labour seem to prefer backstabbing and coded press briefings rather than overt leadership challenges and elections.

Finally - The Ken Clarke portrayal was best in my view.

Forlornehope said...

It was a bit like Braveheart; a Shakespearean attitude to history at the service of drama. It took fewer liberties with history than the sweet swan of Avon (and Mel Gibson). Much of the fun was in recognising the look-alike characters. I wonder, though, how it played to people who could not recognise the players and their back stories?

Torygirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the joker said...

I thought Thatcher's portrayal as as a raving drunk quite illuminating!The more she drank, the more crazy and paranoid she became.

John Major was portrayed as a scheming snake.

I cried with Gummer like a child, as the drunk fed the lines.

Torygirl said...

I essentially agree with Iain's review, although I suspect there is a lot more to be said about the drama as a whole. Like Chris, I too was disappointed no Frank Field, and I am sure John Major was portrayed totally inaccurately! Poor, lovely JM! That said, Sessions as Geoffrey Howe was uncanny and I did enjoy Heseltine. The inaccuracies only us political nerds would spot did annoy me, but that's dramatic license for you! I had the cast list in front of me and even I was confused as to who some of the bespectacled suits were, so I doubt the less politically inclined viewer would recognise only the major players. Also, what was with Nigel Lawson? I doubt she would have spoken to him in public as she did Howe.
I think I will watch it again, as I may enjoy it more second time round.

Paul Burgin said...

Tim Belmont:
Was there any truth in the scene where she told him to fetch her shawl? Or was simply a bit of exaggeration to reflect her attitude towards him?

------------------
Afraid its true. I have read of several accounts, inc a verbal third hand account (and that was before I read the comments from former cabinet ministers), that she could behave quite badly towards him sometimes and it makes sense when you see that partly in context of his resignation. Personal loyalty is one thing, as is political loyalty, but when you are lacking in one area, God help the person you were loyal to once you are lacking in the other!

Westminster Worker said...

I found it quite riveting, but can see how you don't think it was not entirely accurate.

How did the scrip writers put it together? Did they consult with Cabinet members from the time? Im thinking of things like Mrs Thatcher comparing Heseltine with William Wilberforce early on in a 1980s flashback. Did that happen?

When did she actually say 'Its a funny old world' ?

Did the blue chip meeting really take place at Garel Jones's house?

Did Tebbitt tend to swear a lot?

By my reckoning the character playing Alan Clark is the same man who is the voice of Brian Aldridge in the Archers.....brilliant stuff!

Bryan Appleyard said...

So nobody noticed the junk dialogue, the fact that Denis had been taken down several castes, the excessive make-up, the ridiculous music, the sloppy editing, the reliance on telling rather than showing, the.... I can't go on.

Shamik said...

I have to say I really enjoyed it, and I almost ended up feeling sorry for her!

Some of the rants were pure "Hitler's Downfall" though! Is there a downfall video parody out there? Can't seem to find one; maybe someone should put one together...

Word ver: poinsing

canon alberic said...

I'm with Bryan: it was risible apart from Sessions rather uncanny (but dreadfully scripted) Sir Geoffrey. The main problems seem to be that it had been filmed in the High Court which was all wrong; it had a simplistic cliched approach to the very sophisticated politics (probably because many of those involved like Ms Duncan, who was completely out of her depth, "..hated everything she stood for.") and it had all the drama style and polish of Dallas, apparently its scriptwriters only frame of reference for the period.

Plenty said...

I thought this was an amazing emotional piece of drama. I thought Dennis Thatcher was very good as the devoted, supporting husband of Maggie. I also thought the poem Law of the Jungle was a neat way of summarising how the Tory Party can really be ruthless when they want blood on the leadership floor. This was better than the one a couple of years ago with Jane Horrocks....

See my review at www.plenty2say.com

Head of Legal said...

I think they used the Royal Courts of Justice for the Palace of Westminster interiors - I was distracted all the time from political history by remembering scurrying up and down those staircases as a pupil.

kris said...

I frickin loved it. She was right. Tarzan and Major were the future? Ken Clarke and his love for Europe? It's all a joke and we're paying the price for these people being babies.

I loved the scene where she kicks off in Cabinet about people getting off their behinds and getting jobs. Can you imagine if anyone dared say that out loud today?

Bring her back.

John Demetriou said...

I was pretty blown away by the drama myself, but like Iain went away from it feeling inexplicably deflated. It didn't quite have the 'finish' it needed to be an absolute stormer of a production.

I think, looking back on it, some of the scenes appeared a little too choreographed and practised, and so the acting appeared wooden. The camera work was styled in such a way as to pay maximum focus on Duncan, which was logical but did a disservice in so far as we lost the edge and intent behind the motives of the other players.

I thought the portrayal of Tebbit was extremely irritating. The lanky, slightly cockney bloke who bobbled about a bit and randomly spouted out the same line, but slightly rehashed, over and over again. Yes, ok, we got the idea, he was the outspoken Rottweiler type who was very loyal and right wing. We don't need to spoon fed in this amateurish wooden display of acting. They should have diversified this character a bit more than that.

I absolutely loved John Major's characterisation. The scene where they were celebrating 10 years in power, and 'Major' slinks round the backs of some of the other cabinet cronies with a drink for Maggie and then slips off again. This characterisation was more accurate for other figures: real gutless worms like Howe and Hurd and co.

I think it was good that the weak gutlessness of Thatcher's cabinet was fairly depicted by the drama. There is no doubt that Thatcher was a lion amidst rats and weasels, and I took a strong sense of this away from the programme.

Fair play to Lindsay Duncan for a difficult role. Not entirely sure she was the perfect actress for the role, but good effort.

John Demetriou

www.boatangdemetriou.com