There’s no doubt that Meryl Streep will get honored with an Oscar nomination (and possibly a win) for her role as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Unfortunately, audiences won’t be as receptive to the film itself. Director Phyllida Lloyd is known for the musical Mamma Mia, there is no reason she should have been put in charge of such a prestigious movie and it’s what ultimately makes this a weak, disjointed effort in which Streep’s performance is the only saving grace.
The Iron Lady tells of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep). The film follows her life, her relationship with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and her tumultuous role as Prime Minister during the Falklands War and other events in British history.
A movie so cut and dry as this should not be hard to screw up, and in 105 minutes the highlights are touched on making this a “best of” story of Margaret Thatcher. It’s funny that a horrid movie like Joyful Noise tells so little in almost two hours, and The Iron Lady crams in so little in 105 minutes. I know this is meant to be the good section so I’ll touch on the good. The performance from Streep is why audiences should see this movie. Streep inhabits the role of Thatcher like a second skin making this a performance that transcends a similar role as Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Streep plays Thatcher as a head-strong woman and also as a depressed old lady trying to find purpose in a world that has forgotten or, in some instances, demonized her. Streep plays the role with vulnerability, grace, strength, and makes you believe as strongly as Thatcher did in the cause and office she upheld. The performance of the leading lady makes this movie a smidge better than it is, and elevates the performance from being a Lifetime biopic of the former PM.
Sadly, director Lloyd is way out of her depth with this film and it shows in the events she chooses to highlight. Thatcher did so many things in her tenure, some that are highly debated in political circles, yet you wouldn’t know that from what Lloyd includes in the picture. The majority of the film is devoted to Thatcher as an old, forgotten woman talking to the ghost of her husband. Certain things flash her back to other events but the first half of the movie is devoted to her as a young woman. Other things that are actually given time in the film include her learning speech patterns (a little too close to The King’s Speech), and her ousting in the 1990s. In fact most of the movie is told in montage to rapidly move through the decades. I have no idea what Thatcher did or accomplished in the 70s or 80s because we get a rapid montage of her dancing with Ronald Reagan and we’re in the 90s…guess that’s all she did! The message of the movie ultimately falls on Thatcher’s undying love for her husband and their relationship is supposedly based on Thatcher not wanting to be a housewife. So what are we supposed to take away, her time as PM ruined her marriage and now she’s a sad old woman? With what short shrift they give her time as PM I guess that’s what we’re left with.
The rest of the cast is good, but they don’t touch Streep’s performance and they’re really relegated to the background, sometimes literally. Broadbent is always reliable as the loveable husband and he plays well opposite Streep. The young actors playing Thatcher and Denis, Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd respectively, serve the characters well. Anthony Stewart Head is also great as the last man of Thatcher’s original cabinet to leave.
As much as The Iron Lady wants to be the definitive biopic on Margaret Thatcher, it plays like a high school filmed version of her life, a History Channel documentary with classy actors. Streep’s performance is astounding and worth a look at the movie, but it’s a rental at best.