Review of The Iron Lady


Movie Review: "The Iron Lady"

Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2012
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Genre: Drama, Biography
Rating: 4 out of 5

"The Iron Lady" is a biopic about Margaret Thatcher, the United Kingdom's only female prime minister to date. Starring Meryl Streep, the movie is an ambitious look at the life of a legendary political figure who divided her country and created waves around the world. Although the film admirably captures Thatcher's personality and drive, it remains surprisingly neutral on her political leanings.

The story uses a disjointed narrative structure that switches between the present and the past while telling a story that spans six decades. Throughout the film, viewers see the modern-day, elderly Thatcher in the beginning stages of dementia speaking with her long-dead husband Denis (played by Jim Broadbent). The scenes provide a striking contrast with the flashbacks of a younger Thatcher's rise to power. On paper, the freeform structure is confusing; in practice, it succeeds in contrasting the formative moments in Thatcher's past with her declining mental state in the present. The continuous reminder that all power must come to an end creates a moving emotional undercurrent that humanizes the film-and Thatcher herself.

"The Iron Lady" chronicles Thatcher's journey from her lowly beginnings as a shopkeeper's daughter to the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. It follows her as she moves up through the levels of the conservative party, demonstrating the relentless ambition and occasional ruthlessness that drove her to succeed. Through Streep's steely performance, viewers get a clear picture of the determination required to rise through the ranks in an era where women were severely underrepresented in governing bodies.

Meryl Streep gives a predictably perfect performance as Margaret Thatcher. Throughout the movie, Streep fully inhabits her character-sometimes, uncannily so. From her false teeth to her bouffant hair and nasal accent, Streep's portrayal is so convincing that viewers may forget they are watching an actor. In an understated but powerful performance, she captures Thatcher's characteristic slyness and spirit of perseverance. With the tiniest changes in her bearing and countenance, Streep masterfully communicates her character's dismissive attitude toward the overly emotional tendencies of contemporary culture.

"The Iron Lady" is the second collaboration between director Phyllida Lloyd and Streep, who worked together in 2008 on the film adaptation of the stage musical "Mamma Mia." Although "The Iron Lady" is only Lloyd's second film, her artistic vision imbues the story with a natural fluidity and beauty. It stands in stark contrast to "Mamma Mia," both in aesthetic value and the quality of performance. Cinematic quality aside, Lloyd demonstrates the admirable ability to work with Streep's considerable talent, allowing her enough freedom to create the character without giving the film over completely. The result is a balanced and highly pleasing artistic collaboration.

Although Streep's performance is admirable, the movie shies away from a full exploration of Thatcher's legendary political leanings. The script, which was crafted by writer Abi Morgan, does not accurately communicate the polarizing effect Thatcher had on the United Kingdom and the world. During her three terms in office, Thatcher's actions divided the political parties and sparked ideological controversy. Her involvement in the Falklands War was heavily debated. In the late 1980s, she introduced a poll tax, which was so unpopular that it prompted widespread demonstrations.

During Thatcher's time as prime minister, it would have been difficult to find a person who did not have a strong opinion about her, whether positive or negative. And yet, despite the dramatic response she inspired around the world, "The Iron Lady" remains uncomfortably neutral when it comes to Thatcher's politics. While the movie admires her feminism and captures her personal belief in ideas over emotions, it fails to take a stand on her political leanings. The lack of opinion is glaringly absent and may leave viewers cold.

Despite its shortcomings, the film is an overall success-mostly due to the power of Streep's performance. Her commanding presence is the driving force behind the film, and her tough-talking character will fascinate and delight viewers. A group of excellent supporting actors adds to the story's believability. As the clownish Denis, Jim Broadbent provides a sweet foil to Streep's hard-edged Thatcher. Their unlikely partnership is moving and supportive, adding an emotional depth to the movie that makes the politics more palatable. Matthew Marsh plays U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig and perfectly captures the contentious relationship with Thatcher. In the end, the collective talents of the cast and creative team combine to create a pleasing, entertaining moviegoing experience.