Editor’s Note: Go,See,Talk presents this review of The Iron Lady from our guest contributing writer Bill Graham. Have a look at what he had to say about the Meryl Streep’s period piece and offer your thoughts below.
There’s little question going into The Iron Lady what to expect from Meryl Streep. No. The mystery is the film surrounding her performance as Margaret Thatcher. That’s, ultimately, the shame. Instead of using a straight-forward narrative tale, it balances flashbacks of her rise from mere grocer’s daughter to the first female Prime Minister of England with her current state of dementia and everything that entails. Phyllida Lloyd is at the helm of this melodrama that seems to merely exist as a textbook of Thatcher’s life (which is ongoing) with an odd, distant look as if she is an untouchable legend. There are no strong opinions given on the woman itself but merely an overview of what she did during her prime. That’s odd as Streep tells a doctor in her later years that too many people fuss about feelings when they should really focus on thoughts. I’d be curious to know just what Phllida Lloyd or screenwriter Abi Morgan thinks about Thatcher’s career.
Thatcher has been fiercely independent all her life, and in her older age seems to want her independence more than ever before.
That makes life difficult on her children and her caretakers, as the once proud Baroness Thatcher is showing signs of dementia. She forgets her current situation at times and sees visions of her long-dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). We immediately begin to delve into Thatcher’s backstory, being raised by a political figure that just happened to own a grocery store in England. She dreams of growing out of her humble beginnings, despite her timid and innocent nature. She makes a slow and steady climb in politics even amidst the heavy sexism leveled her way and manages to win a seat as the leader of the Conservative party, which catapults her into the role of Prime Minister.
From here she leads with a commanding, authoritative voice—changed in a whirlwind of moves because she was deemed to “screech” too much—that never backs down, leaving her family and everyone else behind. She leads, because that’s her focus. She leads because she thinks she has the answers and that everyone better get on board or be left behind. It’s no wonder she gained the moniker of “Iron Lady”.
Her tenure was anything but rosy, and this biopic makes that incredibly clear. How muddled everything was isn’t quite as clear, as we are slammed with a mixture of new footage shot for the film and old news footage. The film, rightly or wrongly, focuses on the woman and not the effects her policies had. There is a lot to take in, which seems like an odd pairing with the 105 minute run time. These flashbacks are broken up by Thatcher’s current life and one can clearly glean that her political battles weighed so heavily on her that it had lasting effects on her mind. As we move down her rise to power we are given glimpses of the life she tries to carry on. She’s a drinker, this Baroness Thatcher, and has more love for her husband in her visions of him than she ever seemed to show while he was alive and well. At times it is heartbreaking, as Streep can move from ferocity to needful elder in no time.
The moments of charm in the film mainly occur between Streep and Broadbent, particularly in their older age. Is it noticeable that Broadbent is advanced in age in real life compared to Streep? Definitely. During scenes where Streep plays a younger Thatcher complete with dental wear, the movie magic seems to fail as she looks middle-aged and he looks well past it. That’s jarring when we see her in old age having visions of him still looking the same. Yet their constant bickering and obvious love is warm. That’s a vast change from her fight-for-the-top attitude that works as an underdog but becomes badgering as her tenure as prime minister continues.
Perhaps Thatcher’s reign is still too close to really get a handle on what she did to Britain. That’s the danger of any reflective history that occurs while its subject is still living. Morgan and Lloyd peel back the curtain on the woman itself just a bit while leaving her real, lasting impression relatively untouched. By the time you leave the theater you will have little answers and many more questions. What you will have little doubt about is Streep’s ability to seep into a role and showcase her ability to live beyond the confines of what is written and give us some of the details, fact or fiction, that make a human whole. Is this an informative biopic? Hardly. But it is inoffensive entertainment and perhaps it is enough to get those that aren’t familiar with her to look into her storied career.