A film review by Craig J. Koban January 16, 2012
THE IRON LADY
2011, PG-13, 105 mins.
2011, PG-13, 105 mins.
Margaret Thatcher: Meryl Streep / Denis Thatcher: Jim Broadbent / Young
Margaret: Alexandra Roach / Young Denis: Harry Lloyd / Carol
Thatcher: Olivia Colman / Edward Heath: John Sessions
IRON LADY is proof positive that an extraordinarily skilled and
bravura lead performance can be wasted by an ill-focused screenplay that
lacks any sort of compelling angle.
an overly stylized biopic about one of the 20th
Century’s most prominent, powerful, and controversial female politicians
that regretfully has very little – if anything – to actually say about
this woman. Of course, I am
referring to Margaret Thatcher, a conservative-leaning politician that
revitalized Great Britain during times of great uncertainty while serving
as its Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. It’s too bad, though; that this film doesn’t teach
viewers anything more about her than what a cursory Wikipedia search
worse is that we have one of the most imminent actresses alive in Meryl
Streep, incomparably at the absolute zenith of her thespian form here
playing one of greatest political figures of all time in a film that
simply has no real opinion of her. Abi Morgan’s screenplay most certainly gives us
insights into Thatcher’s oftentimes polarizing personality, but beyond
that we get little penetrating commentary about what made her such a fiercely
determined, tenaciously independent minded, and unwavering political force.
Here’s a person that courageously bucked the backward-minded
socio-political forces and norms of her time and became a principled and
intelligent leader of a whole nation through sheer willpower and
convictions in her abilities to do so.
Regretfully, THE IRON LADY glosses over all of the meaningful rationales that
led to her prominence; it’s like
Cliff Notes history detailing salient factual points rather than engaging
in intriguing discourse.
overall makeup of the narrative is also an unconstructively scattershot
and bizarre construction of uneven flashbacks and flash-forwards, rudimentary archival footage, time-lapsing montages, and
personal delusions when, in the present and in her 80’s, she is a frail,
senile, and elderly shell of her former self that battles dementia
and perhaps Alzheimer’s. There
is some tear-breaking poignancy regarding how the film deals with her
current physical and mental state, but it almost detracts too much away from
her formative career. These
tender moments of elderly normalcy are shoehorned in with her
hallucinations of her long-deceased husband, Dennis (played in an
infectiously wry performance by Jim Broadbent).
From there, the film then segues back and forth between the present
and various points in the past, and it does so both haphazardly and
film recounts the young Thatcher’s journey from a young working class
woman that desperately tried to find a portal into the staunchly
male-dominated Tory Party in the British House of Commons.
We then see her transformation into a female member of the House
and, eventually, her fateful decision to run for the highest office in the
country. Her personal voyage,
however, would not be easy. She had to overcome rampant sexism in her
profession as well as all those nagging doubts that a woman could, in
fact, be the Prime Minister of a country during a time when no other
democratic nation had a female leader.
became the Leader of the Opposition (Conservative Party) in 1975 and the
first woman to lead a major political party in UK history.
She then led her party to victory in the general election of 1979
to become Prime Minister and by the time she settled in at 10 Downing
Street she became deeply convinced that she was going to reverse all
policies that led to her country’s decline.
She took a hard stance on deregulation, unions, and became
unpopular in her first few years in office (Great Britain of the early
80’s was ravaged by recession). Then
came the Falklands War, a resurgence of popularity, and a re-election in
1983. By the time she
resigned - well after a third re-election - in 1990, she was the longest serving PM
all of the aforementioned details are just facts about Thatcher’s rise
to power without much dissertation, and that is the problem with
THE IRON LADY. The film never
deeply delves into her politics, which allows it to feel stridently - and
rather oddly - apolitical
about a deeply opinionated politician.
Too much of the time, the narrative skips over key
moments of her leadership: Take, for instance, the presence of the IRA in
England or The Falklands War or Britain’s nagging unemployment
during her first
few years in office or her persistent criticism of unions and organized
labor; what does Morgan’s script think about these issues and how
Thatcher handled them? Was
Thatcher justified? Was she
too tough minded and obstinate to let in other opinions to help form her
policies? Should her domestic
and foreign policies be revered or chastised?
THE IRON LADY seems absolutely desperate for a voice of these
matters, but none is to be found.
all of these problematic circumstances, it’s a real thankless miracle
how extraordinary Streep is in her complete immersion into the role of the
former “grocer’s daughter” turned Prime Minister.
She will most assuredly get an Oscar nomination for the way she
captures all of the nuances of this iconic persona: the frail and mentally
fractured old woman struggling with senility in the present (the age
makeup here is incredibly subtle, but remarkably realistic, unlike in J.
EDGAR); the loving and devoted wife; the graceful and dignified
public orator; the inwardly sturdy and resolute woman making a name for
herself in a male-centric arena; and a soulful and melancholic figurehead
that dealt with personal and political strife.
Streep’s physical and vocal transformation is uncanny to the
point where it defies simply imitation; it’s a tour de force performance as
good as any she has ever
alas, is so uniformly magnificent here that it all but makes THE IRON
LADY’s faults glaringly stick out that much more.
The director, Phyllida Lloyd (who worked with Streep on MAMMA
MIA!) seems to have found a niche for collaborating with the multiple
Oscar nominated actress, but her command over the already undisciplined
screenplay is ungainly. What
remains is an hollow shell of a political biopic, one that poses many
queries into its subject, never dutifully answers or comments on them, and
ultimately leaves viewers feeling like they are watching a greatest hits compilation
of Thatcher’s superlative life story. The
Soviets did call Thatcher the “Iron Lady” because of her hard line rhetoric,
tough policies and staunch
opposition to them at the height of the Cold War, but what made this lady
with such a iron will truly tick?
This film does not have much of a clue.