Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant, Harry Lloyd, Anthony Head, Olivia Colman, Roger Allam, Susan Brown, Alice da Cunha, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Iain Glen
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Nudity)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.theironladymovie.co.uk/blog/
Opening Day: 16 February 2012
Synopsis: Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister, now in her 80s, is at home having breakfast in Chester Square, London. Although her husband, Denis, has been dead for several years, her decision finally to clear out his wardrobe has triggered a slew of memories. Indeed, as she sets about her day, Denis appears to her as real as when he was alive - loyal, loving, mischievous. Margaret's staff express concern to Carol Thatcher about her mother's apparent confusion of past and present. The concern becomes stronger when, at a dinner she hosts that night, Margaret captivates her guests but is then distracted by memories of the dinner at which she first met Denis 60 years previously. With the dinner party over, Margaret retires to bed but cannot sleep. She gets up and digs out some old home movies which she watches and reflects on the sacrifices made in her private life in pursuit of her career. The day after the dinner party, Carol has persuaded her mother to see a doctor. Margaret maintains that there is nothing wrong with her. She reveals nothing to the doctor about the vivid memories of key moments of her life that are invading her waking hours. Back at Chester Square, Margaret fights against the rising tide of memories. She packs up Denis’s belongings and asserts her independence - of course she will have memories but she also has a life in the present - a smaller life than before, but one no less worth living.
Meryl Streep is every bit as good as you’d expect her to be in “The Iron Lady” but that wondrous application of mimicry does not extend to the film itself. A shallow, inert attempt at a biopic that finds an unhealthy fascination with condensing its subject matter into melodramatic pulp -- mercurial and intriguing it is not.
Director Phyllida Lloyd (reuniting with Streep from “Mamma Mia”) and writer Abi Morgan start off with a terrific shot of an old Thatcher, removed from office, reaching for a bottle of milk in the supermarket, recalling the famous “milk snatcher” jibe given to her prior to her tenure as Prime Minister. It sets up a self-reflexive view of the subject from the get-go, one that could have considered context and historical perspective as a vantage point in approaching its divisive character. Unfortunately, the film abuses this approach and steadily crafts self-consciously superficial scenarios and characterisations that strip whatever veracity exploring subject like Thatcher deserves from a biopic.
On the other hand, Streep is memorable in her upstaginess, her control of the scene evincing a fiercer sense of scale that becomes increasingly clear that even the film itself is unable to handle, let alone harness. She offers so much by giving brief insights not just into Thatcher but of people of her ilk – angry, out-of-touch and fiercely siege-like – the film becomes almost embarrassed at having this wealth of themes at its disposal, choosing to gloss over the internalisation of such a character in lieu of a grossly simplistic overview of the chronology leading up to its framing device.
The film paints Thatcher in three primary lights – old and dithering in the present, idealistic and feisty in her early years, and arrogant and stubborn during her time in office. It’s a conventional narrative device that urges the utilisation of histrionics and reduction as prevailing ideals. Dementia sets in as Thatcher starts to see hallucinations of her dead husband; she recalls her rise from the being the daughter of a grocer (the film makes a five-course meal out of her humble beginnings) to her stint as Education Secretary in a male-dominated Parliament, all the way into her unlikely appointment as Prime Minister during the country’s economic downturn.
This device severely limits the storytelling potential of the film. A flashback, when used correctly, solidifies an audience’s emotional connection to the character through a uniquely slanted perspective. However, the film misuses it to a grave extent. We do not see so much of the character as we do of the circumstances surrounding her – the key moments as ascertained by raucous distortion of facts and a self-defeatist avenue of inquiry.
Starting off with an agenda already set in place by positioning Thatcher as a key figure of feminism, it informs every scene as a paean to her rise and dismantling of a patriarchal club that once excluded her. It touches lightly on her famous disposition – ideas before emotions – as being as far away from a conventional description of a lady as possible. It even approaches near respectability at times when it asserts that a rigid stance based on courage of convictions might just be the wrong thing to have in a world begging for a nuanced and proportionate approach – just one example of correlation to contemporary context the film could have used. It also undercuts Thatcher's legacy at the end as a nasty old woman playing at politics when it ends the film with her doddering around the kitchen.
Perhaps this might be the film’s greatest misstep in addressing a famous personality like her. The film merely ignores the politics she stood for, relegating the people of England into news sound-bites as it focuses on her insipid relationship with her children instead of the true fascination of her time in office. She influenced a veritable lexicon of 80s’ to 90s’ pop culture through a political gravitas that resonates till now – the irrational, tyrannical and at times alienating portraiture of right-wing politics can be seen through her prominence in European politics. Thatcher is inextricable from her policies and to ignore this vital aspect is to show a muddled view of the woman -- an exploration of a leader is futile without taking the pulse of the people he or she leads.
(Streep is expectedly phenomenal – by far and away the only saving grace of a ridiculous and ill-conceived biopic)
Review by Justin Deimen