Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Head, Harry Lloyd, Alexandra Roach
The Weinstein Company
"Making of" Featurette; Four Mini-Featurettes
First things first.
Yes, Meryl Streep really does warrant all the positive buzz she's been getting for her performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady.
Now then, back to the actual review of The Iron Lady.
Phyllida Lloyd also directed the Streep-led Mamma Mia!, and while The Iron Lady is nowhere near as shallow as that entertaining but emotionally vacant film it is a surprisingly simplified take on one of contemporary political history's most complex women. The Iron Lady is a timid biopic scripted by Abi Morgan, who also penned the much darker and much deeper Shame starring Michael Fassbender.
Now then, the other painful truth. On more than one occasion while watching Streep's uncanny ability to crawl inside the being of yet another human being, I found myself reflecting upon her performance in the fairly recent Julie & Julia, where Streep masterfully portrayed famed chef Julia Child. This doesn't mean, on any level, that Streep's performance here is somehow flawed. It may, however, on some minor level call into question the wisdom of choosing to portray yet another character whose vocal stylings are so incredibly similar. (Critic's Note: I can picture, in my own slightly self-indulgent world where Meryl Streep actually knows of my existence, Streep herself reading this statement and thinking to herself "Young man, you've OBVIOUSLY not listened to the two characters and fully grasped the complex variations in their speech patterns or you'd know how utterly foolish your statement is."). Of course, we also know that Meryl Streep would never end a sentence with a preposition.
But I digress.
The Iron Lady begins in 2005 around the time of London's terrorist attacks. Thatcher's days as Prime Minister have long ended, and the film portrays her as a woman experiencing the early to middling stages of dementia with flashbacks of her now deceased husband and her time as Prime Minister frequently flooding her memories. These scenes are ripe for caricature but, of course, Streep would never let such a thing happen and, at least far better than any living actress could, she infuses these scenes with depth and humanity.
While there's a wealth of material that could be explored in The Iron Lady, one of the biggest problems with the film is that it tries, at least in fleeting moments, to explore it all. In what often feels like media blips, The Iron Lady weaves its way through Thatcher as a young woman attending Oxford (nicely portrayed by Alexandra Roach) followed by her entering Parliament in 1959, her successfully becoming leader of the Conservative Party and those events that would become benchmark events of her national leadership ranging from her attacks on trade unions to the war in the Falkland Islands.
It's nearly impossible to become attached to any of these scenes or, for that matter, to give one iota about Thatcher's involvement in them because Morgan's script breezes the film right through them. While I can deal with the script's nearly undeniable sympathetic leanings towards Thatcher, it's far more difficult to forgive Morgan's inability to really capture the complexity of her character and what really drove her on her rise to leadership. While Streep's portrayal of her is transcendent, the story that unfolds here is closer to transparent.
The Iron lady is clearly Streep's film, but Jim Broadbent manages to hold his own as her largely in the shadow husband Denis, and Olivia Colman shines as her daughter, Carol.
It seems more than a little intentional that The Iron Lady portrays Thatcher in a sympathetic light, though neither conservatives nor liberals are likely to have much to argue with in the film given Morgan's scripting timidity and Lloyd's paint-by-numbers direction of the events that unfold during Thatcher's time as Prime Minister. While the film tilts toward the sympathetic, it also reflects enough of Thatcher's bold, inflammatory statements that one can't help but sit back and stare at the screen and wonder how her leadership ever really happened. It helps that Streep's performance, again it's all about Streep, brings out the fiery passion of Thatcher even when the script isn't necessarily giving it to her.
Worth the price of admission for seeing Streep alone, The Iron Lady will most likely appeal to those who fancy themselves lovers of political dramas and biopics (Or, yes, Streep's fans). Structurally flawed yet dramatically involving, The Iron Lady is a surefire Oscar nomination for Streep and, just perhaps, may lead to her first win since 1983.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic