You get a sterling performance by Meryl Streep in a so-so movie. The Iron Lady is finely crafted in a number of areas but doesn’t give us what we really want. Here is this opportunity to do a full-spread biographical docudrama on Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to be Prime Minister for Great Britain, and it focuses on her senile disorder in her elderly years. This is an imbalanced movie that uses the device of the elderly Thatcher coping with her disease by using memory to soothe herself, when all we want are scenes of Thatcher swaying the public with strong political opinions. Streep is so uncanny that we are pinned by her bluster in every single moment. But this isn’t a sharp film, for it’s merely a movie of a once powerful woman looking back with fogginess at her triumphs in office.
We can’t stop at looking at her ghost of a husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) because we know he’s not really there. The movie makes an enormous deal out of Thatcher’s hallucinations. By the end of the first act, we are introduced to a second actress (Alexandra Roach) who plays the young post-college idealistic Thatcher who stomps her way into Parliament, at first annoying all the male brass, before converting some of them. When Streep takes over the role during the key years when she was leader of the opposition, she still is stymied by male chauvinist critics such as Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant). But she still campaigns as Britain’s first ever woman for Prime Minister – with no intention to win until her advisors tell her to push for it. She took office in 1979.
Financial deregulation, mass privatization, decreased public service spending, and the controversial monetarist tax structure are topics that are tossed left and right, without insight. There is thankfully more dramatization of the soaring unemployment, and of the Falklands War against Argentine militia. And then the out of touch, as well as senility that led her cabinet to push her out of office is handled with an unbiased portrayal.
So there you go. “The Iron Lady” is a marvelously rendered portrait of Margaret Thatcher’s personality as supplied to us by Streep, one of our finest cinematic talents. But the screenplay by Abi Morgan is unpolished and the direction by Phyllida Lloyd is flaccid. See it for Streep’s great embodiment of a difficult but accomplished woman, but be prepared to look elsewhere or wait for another biopic that can pick up where this left off.
105 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
HISTORICAL DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE / DOWNHEARTED
Film Cousins: “Anne of a Thousand Days” (1969); “Evita” (1996); “Elizabeth” (2009); “The Lady” (2011).