THE IRON LADY
Written by Abi Morgan
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Alexandra Roach
Margaret Thatcher: It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.
In 2009, Margaret Thatcher attended the unveiling of her own portrait as British Prime Minister, held at her former office, London’s 10 Downing Street. Phyllida Lloyd’s THE IRON LADY supposes it knows Thatcher’s frame of mind in the time leading up to this event. The presumption is that Thatcher’s later years are spent mostly in solitude, facing her own mortality and inevitable dementia, whiling away the hours looking back on her life. There is some element of truth to this portrayal (Thatcher’s daughter has mentioned memory loss in the press), but the question is not whether the device is appropriate or not. It isn’t even the doors that it opens that matter most. THE IRON LADY hinges on but one thing – who walks through those doors and how she walks through them.
Meryl Streep, not surprisingly, is THE IRON LADY. Her performance, as Thatcher both during her rise to power in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and during her later years, is so focused and so commanding that she seems at times to be carrying the entire film in a cart behind her with a rope over her shoulder. Not that there aren’t other standout elements of the film, the most notable of which being Jim Broadbent as her deceased husband who has come back to her life through the power of hallucination, but just that Streep’s caliber of talent is clearly in full force as this iconic political figure. It is as though the breadth in Streep’s performance somehow became entwined with Thatcher’s stature as a politician to form a cross-generational super power of feminine strength. Does Lloyd know what to do with this though?
Lloyd does spin the film a little too often in the all too obvious feminist direction unfortunately. Yes, Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister and yes, she had to fight her whole life to be taken seriously in the relentless boy’s club that is the British Parliament. When she likens her struggle as a woman to those of a soldier in battle though, I’m less inclined to take her as seriously as she deserves to be. Abi Morgan’s screenplay, which misses no opportunity to be dramatic, operating in stark contrast to the bare bones work she did on Steve McQueen’s SHAME, pits Thatcher more often against her male detractors and herself, than the very real political issues she faced during her 11 years in office, sometimes glossing over major events. While this may not make for a great biography in then end, it still makes for some fairly compelling drama. And not one moment of Streep’s performance should be missed.