MEANTIME (Mike Leigh, 1983); TRACKING DOWN MAGGIE (Nick Broomfield, 1994)

Anyone else think Meryl may’ve bitten off more than even she can chew this time? Nothing about The Iron Lady’s trailer suggests that anyone’s thinking beyond the trivially “iconic”; there’s no apparent awareness that as icons go, the handbag-happy steel-eyed Priminatrix was and remains a tad more divisive than, say, Coco Chanel.

Oh, and “You’ve got it in you to go the whole distance” suggests rather a tin ear for pre-’79 UK idioms, to boot. Did anyone involved in the production actually live through Thatcher’s Britain? Well, probably. Were any of them living like the characters of Meantime? I’d be amazed. Mike Leigh’s TV drama reflects a truth made explicit by T-Mag’s regime; that the 60s revolution was largely in the heads of a relatively affluent metropolitan minority. Everyone else was either on the outside looking in or else not even looking, just dolorously grinding on, making do and mending like the war never ended. Rock’n’roll? Just something on telly Thursday nights.

But get me, born a year before her premiership, pretending I know jack shit about life prior to it. What can I say? The movies taught me everything. And Leigh’s Thatcher’s Britain is 50s-level grim, two school-leavers (Phil Daniels, Tim Roth) suffocating in their parents’ council flat. I’ve often found Leigh’s work too archly theatrical to believe in as “social realism”, and Gary Oldman’s dumb skinhead does edge towards Young Ones caricature. But I’ll go with it on this occasion, because Meantime really does create/reflect a world so desolate, so lacking in opportunity or inspiration that there’s just no incentive not to while away your afternoons climbing inside a dustbin and banging the walls with a hammer.

With its cast of then-unknown future names, this would end up being just a little iconic itself; Roth even invented Graham Coxon, all thick-rimmed specs and green anorak. His helpless Colin, a literal mouth-breather, possibly autistic or just, as uncle Alfred Molina more indelicately has it, “retarded”, makes for a very British – bleak, sceptical – twist on the familiar revenge-of-the-nerds narrative (you arguably had to wait until last year’s The Social Network for a Hollywood equivalent). When this worm turns, it’s alarmingly anti-heroic and most likely destined to go out with the tide. And that’s the best-case scenario (hint: Roth would next be seen in Alan Clarke’s brilliant Made in Britain).

In other coming-soon news, I’m not yet aware if Nick Broomfield’s managed to score actual face-time with Sarah Palin, the subject of his first documentary since 2006. From Eugene Terre’blanche to Courtney Love, his track record bodes ill: and in Tracking Down Maggie he once again wastes 81 minutes of our time failing to secure an interview with the now ex-premier on her trans-Atlantic book tour. He persists as the doors keep closing, explaining that they’d invested too much time and money in the film to back out. (Is that our problem? Then why’re we here?)

Still, it’s probably naive to split hairs about Broomfield’s shortcomings as a journalist, instead of giving due props to his canny self-marketing as the bumbling Frank Spencer of non-fiction cinema; there’s a reason why the DVD packaging has NICK BROOMFIELD: DOCUMENTING ICONS above the title. Unable to Get The Story, he duly became the story, and… well, do we need to use the “i”-word again? Let’s just say that after the Cobain flick, he was sufficiently high-profile to front an ad campaign. Fair play, I guess, but when he can’t remember his own contact details during a crucial phone negotiation here, you can hardly blame Thatcher’s PA for hanging up on him.


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