Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Iron Lady (2011)
Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” presents a portrait of one of the most famous women in the history of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, their first female Prime Minister. However, it does this in more than one sense of the word. While it does attempt to tell us about her life, the film feels like you are merely looking at an actual painting of the ex-Prime Minister for all the information this film presents about this extraordinary woman.
The film begins with Thatcher’s (Meryl Streep) post-political life, showing us that she has not been quite right since her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), passed away. In fact, she still sees him quite often and holds conversations with him. Eventually we begin to flash back to how she became involved with politics. Even though she is merely a shopkeeper, she decides to run for parliament. It is during this period that she meets Denis and gets married, eventually winning the position of Education Secretary.
Thatcher sees that there are many problems with the country that she simply cannot fix from her current position, which leads her to run for Prime Minister. Amazingly, she wins, making history as the first woman to hold the office. From here, we witness the hardship of her time as PM by seeing glimpses of some of the events of her terms, with the most focus going to the invasion of the Falkland Islands and the struggle to get them back.
Sadly, “The Iron Lady” is a missed opportunity to tell an important story. It’s a shame to see Thatcher’s life reduced to a meandering mess of a narrative and montage, and indeed, these were the two biggest problems of the film. From the beginning of the film, you might think they were going to show a little of her life after her time as PM and then go back and tell the whole story, but it ends up wasting far too much time on this section not only here, but throughout the film as it keeps coming back to it.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it was going to fill us in on what she’s done during this period, but alas, we don’t get anything about her accept that she’s apparently becoming senile and seeing and conversing with her deceased husband. This was a bizarre choice in structure for the filmmakers to make as it adds nothing to the story, which should be focusing on her rise to power and her time in office.
When we do finally get to see how she rose to power, it is in incredibly brief glimpses. It seems like before you can even blink she’s achieved victory in becoming Education Secretary, and again when she becomes PM. How did she manage to get so much support? What were her stances that attracted the people to vote for her? All of this is glossed over as the film jumps ahead, leaving those who don’t know much of anything about her in the dust.
I myself don’t know much about how she achieved these things or about her time in office, which is why I was really looking forward to seeing the film, but unfortunately there is nothing to be learned here. When it does get to her time as PM, the remainder of the film, when it’s not pointlessly flashing forward, is reduced to a montage of what she did in office. As PM, she believed in action, which she took when the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina. Since the film spends the most time on this incident, supposedly they see this as her most important accomplishment. The rest of her accomplishments I suppose you’ll have to learn about elsewhere.
If there’s one good thing to come out of the film, it’s Meryl Streep’s brilliant portrayal of Thatcher. She disappears completely into this character, becoming her, and making us forget that we’re only watching a performance. She may indeed win her third Oscar for it, and it would be well-deserved, but it’s just a shame her incredible work couldn’t have been in a film more worthy of it.
This really could have been something had the filmmakers taken the time to focus on her incredible career instead of wasting time with the uninformative, post-political period. It would have been wonderful to learn all about her and her achievements rather than merely getting a bland overview. There’s a great story to be told about the life of Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, this is not it. 2/4 stars.