Kamikaze documentarist Nick Broomfield unleashes his bothersome Brit persona on the Iron Lady with hilariously revealing results in “Tracking Down Maggie.” Basically 1 1/2 hours of the filmmaker being rigorously denied access to his subject, the outcome exposes sides to Thatcher that more hands-on portraits might never approach. Extensive TV and festival exposure is a cert.
Film opens with Big Ben chiming out a somewhat unceremonious farewell to Britain’s former prime minister, given four days to pack her bags and vacate 10 Downing Street after a 15-year stint. Thatcher’s business affairs fell immediately into the hands of her pampered son Mark, whose alleged involvement in shady international arms deals becomes Broomfield’s most hotly pursued topic.
He trails Thatcher on a U.S. promotional tour for the publication of her autobiography. While attempting without much luck to get past her security team, he digresses into her past to amusingly reassess the grocer’s daughter from suburban Grantham via locals and school chums.
An entertaining recap is provided of her cultivation of the Iron Lady image, and the elocution lessons designed to lower her initially off-putting voice.
Standout encounter is a brush with an eccentric former neighbor who salvaged the toilet from chez Thatcher when the bathroom was remodeled. The artifact now sits proudly in the woman’s living room, planted with greenery and bearing a plaque that reads, “Margaret Thatcher sat here.”
Thatcher’s special bond with her son is contrasted with the distinct lack of closeness between her and Mark’s twin sister, Carol. Likewise, her father is repeatedly acknowledged as a great influence, while her mother is seldom mentioned. This view is cleverly tied in with the fact that from the moment she broke into the then-stringently male world of politics, Thatcher failed to appoint a single woman to a senior cabinet position.
Mark Thatcher is stealthily brought into the picture by way of allegations over his role in various affairs including a $ 16 million ($ 24 million) arms deal between Britain and the Malaysian government, illicit Arab business contracts and the sale of chemical weapons to Iraq. His rapid rise to become one of the richest men in Britain prompted widespread speculation as to the source of his wealth, but the former prime minister acknowledges no taint on his propriety.
Broomfield raises questions as to whether Thatcher knew of her son’s operations while she was in office. At the same time, he throws open debate regarding her own interest in arms trading following the Falklands war, pointing out that Britain became the world’s No. 2 arms exporter under her government.
Attempts to pin down Mark Thatcher are even more brusquely truncated, with Broomfield playing it all as some kind of nightmarish farce. Meanwhile, he uncovers an incestuous finance circuit by which Thatcher (both mother and son) initiatives pay dividends to a group of companies who in turn were major contributors to her government and now to her private foundation.
Sharp editing by Rick Vick and Susan Bloom slyly plays up the sinister aspects of the Thatcher entourage’s off-limits behavior, milking considerable humor out of the obvious threat posed by Broomfield’s two-person crew, especially their attempted ambush of a hairdressing appointment. Also on-target is Barry Ackroyd’s gleefully intrusive camera.