I was impressed. It takes an unexpected angle that seems to have annoyed people, which is always a good sign. Tomoko enjoyed the film too.
Firstly, let's go through what this film isn't. It's bending over backwards to take no opinion on what Maggie did. It's almost wilful in its refusal to analyse her economic record. Did she save Britain? Did she destroy it? (Did she do both?) Faced with that question, this film sticks its fingers in its ears and chants "la la la". In fact it contains almost no intellectual or political content of any kind, except when it's allowing its characters to explain their ideals and principles. (This is all very well and of great interest if one's exploring a character, but ideals in themselves don't prove anything. The important thing is what happens when these meet reality. Chairman Mao Zedong had strong beliefs, for instance.)
This is extraordinary. We are, after all, talking about the most divisive British public figure ever. This film irritated right-wingers who'd wanted a spotlight on her achievements and left-wingers who'd wanted horns and a pitchfork. To be honest, even I was mildly irritated when the film skipped over most of the 1980s in a few seconds without comment or analysis (from the aftermath of the Falklands war to the Berlin Wall falling).
Instead, it shows us the human being. This is oddly disconcerting, even after one's finished watching the film. One tends to forget that there must have been a person called Margaret Thatcher inside the political Godzilla.
This is unexpected, ergo interesting. Personally I love this angle, precisely because it's got so many people upset. Everyone wanted the film that's already playing in their heads, basically. There seems to be anger and bewilderment that a movie about Margaret Thatcher might instead simply be about Margaret Thatcher. (I think it's significant, by the way, that the film's director and scriptwriter were women.) Half of it's told while she's a geriatric has-been, losing her remaining marbles. The most prominent man in this film isn't Heath, Howe or Heseltine, but her husband Denis, having conversations with her even though he's dead.
So, what's it like, then? Answer: whether one likes it or not, it hits its goal. Obviously the actresses in the title role are crucial, of whom one is good and the other immense. Meryl Streep won an outrageous number of awards for her performance in the lead role (Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, etc.), but personally I don't think she's quite there. It's a superb impersonation. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that she's not giving a careful, painstaking, meticulously researched performance that deserved awards. However the real Maggie was capable of dominating the room, as if everyone else in it was enslaved. Streep doesn't suggest that. Mind you, in fairness this film is going out of its way also to show Maggie when she was powerless.
In addition I couldn't help thinking that getting Streep in old age makeup, no matter how precise her acting, meant missing something that we'd have got from an actress who really was that age. Maybe it's just an audience perception thing? Or else, more likely, it's just me.
The rest of the cast is good. I'd have thought Anthony Stewart Head was too tall and handsome for Geoffrey "dead sheep" Howe, but I'd have been wrong. (Look out for the Buffy and Angel namecheck.) Jim Broadbent is of course wonderful and, in his way, playing the other half of Streep's performance. The film would barely exist without him. Most of the other roles are small, since several decades are being covered, but everyone's solid.
Tomoko liked it partly because it gave her a tour of modern British history, including newsreel footage. The film's certainly making it clear that Maggie was hated too. We see riots and the police beating protesters with sticks. We're reminded of the IRA. Also, on a more frivolous level, the gloriously tacky design in the 1970s is fun.
I really liked this one. Its reputation will grow over time, I think, as other Thatcher films come along and people stop expecting it to be the definitive statement on its era (which would be far more subjective anyway). There's no Deng Xiaoping and precious little Ronald Reagan, but to complain about that would be to miss the point. It won't be the last film about its subject. It's not the first, even if one narrows the definition to "films where she's the title character". Instead it's an even-handed and surprising character study of an extraordinary and often brutally insensitive and impossible person. The obstacles she overcame are remarkable. She always believed in her rightness, without a scintilla of self-doubt. The film embraces all this and hence becomes paradoxically moving.
"Let me make plain my negotiating position. I will not negotiate."