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Tracking Down Maggie (1994)

Courtesy of Lafayette Films

Main image of Tracking Down Maggie (1994)
Lafayette Films for Channel 4
Shown as part of True Stories, tx. 19/5/1994
83 minutes, colour
DirectorNick Broomfield
ProducerRita Oord
 Nick Broomfield
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd

Nick Broomfield and his crew unofficially 'accompany' Margaret Thatcher on the launch of her book and try to break through her public persona.

Show full synopsis

From Kurt Cobain to Eugene Terreblanche, Aileen Wuornos to Heidi Fleiss, Britain's premier documentarist Nick Broomfield excels at revealing the private self behind the public image of the rich and infamous.

But he meets his match in Tracking Down Maggie (1994), a farcical account of the filmmaker's attempts to discover "the real Margaret Thatcher" as she embarks on an international book tour to promote her autobiography. Far from piercing the Iron Lady's armour, Broomfield is foiled at every turn by Head of Security "Sniffer of the Yard" and slippery Press Secretary Julian Seymour.

Broomfield talks to the former P.M.'s friends and associates. He even unearths the Grantham neighbour who has enshrined Lady Thatcher's loo in her living room. But he can't get to the Lady herself. Seymour won't answer his phone calls and he's forbidden to ask questions at book signings.

In desperation, Broomfield "liberates" Thatcher's New York schedule and sets off in hot pursuit as a comic cat-and-mouse game between the film-makers and Thatcher's minders ensues. Hoping to ambush her at the hairdressers, Broomfield instead triggers a security alert. Caught secretly filming at a private function, he is unceremoniously evicted.

Most filmmakers would leave such disasters on the cutting room floor, but Broomfield adroitly uses them to his advantage. Every unanswered phone call and brusque brush-off compounds the impression that Thatcher has something to hide.

Broomfield exploits this latent paranoia brilliantly, such as when he reveals "Sniffer" talking into a hidden microphone in a slow-motion replay worthy of Oliver Stone's JFK (US, 1991). Fearing his phone is bugged, Broomfield meets secretly with shady arms dealers and pursues bad son Mark to his home in Dallas, the ground zero of political conspiracy.

Ultimately this is all a smokescreen, albeit a hilarious one. Despite the film-maker's obsessive pursuit, Maggie is never tracked down. She is Moby Dick to his Ahab, and in the final shot Broomfield, brushed off yet again by Julian Seymour, stands symbolically impaled on his own boom stick.

Yet while Tracking Down Maggie may fail as political biography, it succeeds as an object-lesson in Thatcher's legacy to modern politics, all spin and subterfuge with no compunction towards public accountability. In making a black comedy about a woman renowned for her humourlessness, Broomfield may have had the last laugh after all.

Joe Sieder

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Video Clips
Red and the Blue, The (1983)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Broomfield, Nick (1948-)
'Fly on the Wall' TV
Channel 4 Documentary