Review: The Iron Lady
PLOT: The life of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), whose strict conservative policies earner her the nickname “The Iron Lady”.
REVIEW: THE IRON LADY is a fairly conventional biopic, which contrasts Thatcher’s golden years as an increasingly infirmed senior citizen, suffering from visions of her recently deceased husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), to her rise to power and eleven year rule as Prime Minister. While a solidly crafted film, there wouldn’t be much here to make THE IRON LADY resemble anything more than a good HBO telefilm, if it weren’t for Meryl Streep’s uncanny performance in the lead.
Casting an American as such a famous Brit was sure to invite some criticism, but damn if Streep isn’t bang-on. From the film’s first moments, when a dazed and elderly Thatcher wanders out to buy some milk from a local grocer, who naturally doesn’t recognize her, Streeps metamorphosis into the role is astonishing. Not only have they made her look like Thatcher, but vocally, Streep is able to perfectly capture her unique cadence, without ever giving off the impression of doing a cartoonish imitation.
THE IRON LADY reunites Streep with her director from the hugely successful MAMMA MIA, Phylida Lloyd. One would have thought, given their previous collaboration that this would have been more of a stylized biopic, but Lloyd plays this one pretty safe. Thatcher is certainly a divisive figure. Many view her as one of the finest PM’s in the UK’s history, but just as many view her as a monster, who’s regressive polices made the UK the lapdog of Reagan era-America, and did a number on a whole generation of working-class Brits.
Lloyd, working from a screenplay by Abi Morgan (writer of the acclaimed UK miniseries THE HOUR, and the recent SHAME), casts a critical eye on Thatcher, although she’s presented as a well-meaning, if stubborn sort. A good chunk of time is spent on her rise to power, where she has to fight the sexism, and elitism of British politics, and certainly, here she’s presented as an empowering figure. Things get more complicated during the controversial Falklands War, and afterward- leading to her eventual decline and ousting from office.
I suppose Lloyd can’t be blamed for playing it safe in regards to Thatcher’s life, as going either too positive or too negative would have invited a lot of criticism. However, the result is a “just-the-facts” style presentation that gets a little boring after awhile, especially in the lengthy stretches depicting the elderly and perhaps senile Thatcher. Luckily, Streep is good enough that the film stays relatively engrossing. Also noteworthy is Jim Broadbent as the affable Dennis, who’s more than happy to take a backseat to his wife’s career, while he minds the family. If I have one complaint regarding the cast, it’s that the rest of Thatcher’s cabinet is presented in too fleeting a manner, so performers like Anthony Head and Richard Grant get smaller roles than they deserve. Then again, this is Streep’s show, so I suppose this is to be expected.
Overall, THE IRON LADY is a good, if unexceptional biopic, worthwhile mostly due to Streep, who’s certainly worthy of at least an Oscar nomination. It’s really yet another example of how Streep’s one of the best actresses in the game, and someone who can always deliver, no matter how much of a stretch the role may be.