Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Iron Lady

Margret Thatcher is a woman who invites a great deal of strong opinions, her ruthless taxes and cost-cutting policies spilt the nation, undoubtedly she has become one of the most hated Prime Ministers in British history. The Iron Lady (Thatcher was given that nickname by communist Russia) concerns Margret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) in her elderly years and in declining health as she is suffering from dementia which causes her to have hallucinations of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). The main focus of the story is Thatcher’s old age, but the film revisits the major moments of Thatcher’s life, and political career such as the Falkland’s War, her controversial policies and how she became the most powerful person in the country in an area dominated by men.

The first thing to say about The Iron Lady is that Meryl Streep’s performance/impression of Margret Thatcher is absolutely fantastic; she captures the mannerism, the voice, and the looks perfectly (credit goes to make up artists). At times Streep has to play old and vulnerable while at other times she has to be powerful and authoritative and Streep portrays both of these very different roles extremely well. At the times of Thatcher’s vulnerability Streep is sublimely moving and at times when she commands her authority over a world populated by men she almost demands your attention. You feel like if you don’t listen to her, she will give you an earful. Sadly, it’s a crying shame that nothing in The Iron Lady comes close to matching Streep’s faultless performance, with the exception of Jim Broadbent’s performance which is good, but hardly impressive. Meryl Streep is the only aspect of the film that stops it spilling into mediocrity.

Meryl Streep claimed that The Iron Lady is not a biography of Margret Thatcher, which explains why the film skips over much of the important events of Thatcher’s life. So then what is The Iron Lady if it is not a biopic? Streep claims it is a look at the life of an older woman who looks back at her life and if she regrets the choices she has made, but this begs the question why is Margret Thatcher the central character? What was the film about? Is it a film about dementia? Was it a film about a women growing old without her husband beside her? Or is it a film that attempts to humanize a person who is perceived as a monster?

Anyway, moving on, the film does treat the politics aspects as an afterthought, Thatcher’s policies, like the crushing taxes which increased the gap between the rich and the poor (which is one of the many factors that makes her so unpopular today), are barely discussed as screenwriter Abi Morgan (also screenwriter of Steve McQueen’s sex addiction drama Shame) tells the whole political career of Margret Thatcher in 112 minutes, an impossible task, it’s like writing an essay on Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany in 2000 words. Like writing an essay in 2000 words, making a film lasting 112 minutes really isn’t enough time to go into any sufficient depth.

The issue I have here is that I left the cinema knowing nothing more about Margret Thatcher, I already knew she was seriously ill, and I already knew that she is human and thus is capable of being sympathized with – which is what the film does, it makes us feel sympathy for a women who many perceive to be a evil monster, but if you don’t feel a tad of compassion for her then you are worse than the monster you perceive her to be or is this just my lack of experience of living through her regime talking? I left the theatre none the wiser about Margret Thatcher. If director Phyllida Lloyd was trying to tell us something then I have not learnt that lesson

Even without the discussion of politics the movie still lacks depth; the sexism in the political field is generic and not much more than men leering at her, in a ‘what are you doing here’ way, in corridors. The script is well written (but lacking any real analysis of Margret Thatcher’s life or the film’s subject matter), with the occasional lines of good and bad dialogue. Olivia Coleman’s performance as Carol Thatcher is a mirror image of the real person but the early stages of Thatcher’s life are deeply uninteresting, probably because there is so little depth, that we simply do not care, characters come and go at random moments during the film and The Iron Lady really doesn’t teach you anything you don’t already know.

There is no denying that Meryl Streep is superb, Streep, all by herself makes The Iron Lady worth watching. That said the supporting performances are good, but I can’t help but think that a proper biography of Margret Thatcher would be a great deal more interesting than the film we got. Again Streep's performance is deserving of an Oscar (Streep is the most likely to win one) but director Phyllida Lloyd doesn’t teach us anything new, so it is hard to find the point, but the movie does emphasize with somebody who needed to be emphasized with. Streep makes it more interesting than it has any right to be.



  1. with Meryl Streep in this and Leo DiCaprio in J Edgar, it appears that we are getting more terrific performances in bad films. Anyways, great review

  2. Hi Myerla. I stopped by to welcome you to The LAMB, and couldn't resist reading your review of Streep's performance. I think I liked the story a bit more than you did, but I agree that it pales in comparison to Meryl's acting.

    Great review and welcome to the club!