Meryl Streep fans will love the Iron Lady. Streep transforms into Margaret Thatcher, and for a while it is fascinating to watch. The screenplay by Abi Morgan (Shame) allows Streep the opportunity to painstakingly put one fit in front of the other as she walks very slowly around her apartment while carrying on conversations with her husband Denis, played by James Broadbent, who just so happens to be dead. Denis, not James Broadbent, thank goodness, because Broadbent gives a very funny and lively performance, in spite of his character having been dead for several years.
Director Phyllida Lloyd provides some big moments, like bombings and speeches in Parliament, in a series of montages and flashbacks covering Thatcher’s life. We see a youthful Margaret, a mayor/grocer’s daughter who is inspired by her father’s politics and earns her way to Oxford. A few flashes later we see an earnest young woman leaving for parliament, as her children cry and scream, while chasing the car.
Alexander Roach plays the younger Thatcher, and Harry Lloyd plays the quirky young Denis. Their love story, although sparsely shown, is the only full arc in the film. Denis falls in love with her because she is not afraid to speak her mind, encourages her political career, and ultimately feels abandoned as she pursues it. They then enjoy companionship in their old age together, inside Thatcher’s failing mind.
The rest of this British made film is filled with quick snippets of historic events, completely lacking context, about a women who, apparently, completely lacked empathy. Perhaps that is the film maker’s point. Should/can/will the audience feel any empathy for an aging women, suffering from dementia who was once one of the most prominent leaders in the world?
Or will a bored audience suddenly be startled by wondering if the gap in Meryl Streep’s teeth is exactly the same as the gap in Alexander Roach’s teeth? And then wonder if Margaret Thatcher was known for a gap in her teeth? Quickly followed by a rising wave of feminist ire while realizing that in a film about a female leader, the most well researched insight was a gap in her teeth and the most complete scene was of advisor Airey Neave (Nicholas Farrell) telling her to ditch the hats, make her hair bigger and talk in a less screeching voice.
Flash forward a few more scenes and Neave is blown up by a car bomb, presumably by the IRA, not enraged sylists.
Thatcher is given credit by many to have outsmarted her male colleagues to become the leader of her party. This film essentially purports that these men were easily dazzled and confused by a prominent hairstyle and vocal manipulation. Upon further reflection, that theory doesn’t really sell Thatcher short. In addition to becoming the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, her impact may be even wider reaching. You betcha.
This film runs 105 minutes and is rated PG-13.