The Iron Lady—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 29, 2011 10:30 PM
10 Comments
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It goes without saying that Meryl Streep is always worth watching; in the case of The Iron Lady, her uncanny performance as Margaret Thatcher is the best, and possibly only, reason to see this pallid biography. Screenwriter Abi Morgan does provide a primer on Thatcher’s remarkable rise from grocer’s daughter to Member of Parliament, ultimately achieving the astonishing feat of becoming the first female leader of a Western nation.

But, by framing her story in the present day, and depicting a diminished Thatcher in the first stages of dementia, Morgan raises troubling questions. Is this to illustrate that no matter how powerful the individual, no one can escape the ravages of old age? And is that her way of offering satisfaction to the many people who despise Thatcher and everything she stood for? Or is it just the opposite, a means of humanizing the implacable former Prime Minister? Whatever the case, it seems invasive, if not downright cruel—although it does offer Streep the opportunity to play a doddering old woman, clinging to her dignity, with pinpoint precision.

Jim Broadbent is a perfect match as Thatcher’s husband. Olivia Colman is also quite good as her patient daughter. The other standout in the cast is Welsh actress Alexandra Roach as the younger Maggie Thatcher, who sacrifices almost everything to fulfill her ambitions, and becomes a victim of her own work ethic.

It’s unwise to use movies as a history lesson, and this one is no exception, although viewers old enough to recall the Thatcher-Reagan years will have some unhappy memories dredged up. Not to worry, though: no subject is explored in great depth.

What keeps The Iron Lady afloat is the mesmerizing work of its star. As we already know, Streep goes beyond mimicry to fully inhabit her characters, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to Julia Child. Director Phyllida Lloyd (who also made Mamma Mia!) steers her well, but it’s a shame their film isn’t truly worthy of this brilliant performance.

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10 Comments

  • Patrick m. Gouin | February 3, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    Reviews for this film have been mixed. It is mostly criticized for not being a full biography of this austere figure that like it or not marked modern history. It is true that it is not a true biopic but rather a portrait of an aging person who once tasted glory and now lives through her slow decline physically and mostly mentally. The film is fairly neutral as to the judgment of the Iron Lady’s achievements. The moment in the film that shook me the most was her candid admission that humans are not equal and that the privileged should not be ashamed of their status. Meryl Streep’s acting is magnificent. Her mastery of dialects and the way she wears her character is very impressive to watch. For a critical biopic, we will have to wait.

  • Loose Tooth | January 30, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Absolutely loved it! Love the soft lghting (like a gorgeous painting throughout), loved the acting, loved the feel of it, a wonderful character study, and I was never bored.
    Streep totally embodies the role as Lady Thatcher, just amazing.
    Love the way the filmed opened and the score is wonderful also.
    A study in fine film-making, acting and writing. Just shows you that the big directors, such as Spielberg, can be bettered. Thank goodness for the arthouse and the British Film Commission (who make these sort of films possible, non -blockbusters). Spiffing!!!

  • PHIL | January 18, 2012 7:13 AMReply

    And now that she has won another Golden Globe ( her eighth unprecedented victory after 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer, 1981's The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1982's Sophie's Choice, 2002's Adaptation, 2003's HBO mini-series Angels In America, where she projected blood-chilling cold-bloodedness as Ethel Rosenberg's specter, 2006's The Devil Wears Prada, and 2009's Julie & Julia; the most wins for any performer and a couple of dozen and moreso nominations!!!!!!!), there should be an extra special nook in her home by now to house her next Golden "Boy" not just "Globe." I know she'll gonna bag the SAG and BAFTA statuettes as well! I hope she'll be in line with the likes of Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis, Jane Fonda, Jodie Foster!, Hilary Swank!, but most of all with Jack Nicholson and Ingrid Bergman for having won thrice (twice for Leading Role). I'm glad that she will win for having British accent and for portraying a real-life political icon this time. I really thought Tilda Swinton would steal the win for "We Need To Talk About Kevin." IT WILL BE HER 17th OSCAR NOD..... Kate Winslet, you better hurry up before Madame Meryl turns into octogenarian status!

  • Jeremy Kennedy | January 17, 2012 10:50 PMReply

    Fantastic performance, fantastic story. Anyone that loves America and the free world should see this film. Streep shines and you will be inspired and isn't that what going to the movies is all about?

  • Becky | January 14, 2012 2:04 AMReply

    How can you not say Meryl Streep without mentioning her amazing performances in "Sophies Choice" and "Bridges of Madison County"..

  • Phil | January 12, 2012 5:41 AMReply

    in my opinion, her delineation is quite stagy. she needs to project a full-blooded "inner strength." She must stop giving hints of vulnerability. Again, that "blood-chilling" accent is eminent. Think of The French Lieutenant's Woman and Plenty as English accents but as Thatcher, she delivers intonation and elocution to "dizzyingly-brilliant" proportions!

  • MovieGeek | January 4, 2012 5:28 AMReply

    I actually agree with the fact that not even Meryl can raise this film above the average.
    What could have been an insightful, challenging and even controversial film about one of the most loved/hated politician of the twentieth century, instead ends up being just an empty vessel for Meryl Streep to showcase once again that she’s Oscar worthy! As if we didn’t know that already… The most Oscar nominated living actress in history really does indeed become the British Prime Minister in the “Iron Lady”. Unfortunately Meryl alone is not enough to lift an otherwise flat and quite superficial biopic and in the end what we are left with is great performance for a film that doesn't quite deserve it and that feels like it's been adapted from a page of Wikipedia.
    My FULL review: wp.me/p19wJ2-tB

  • Steve Rodman | December 30, 2011 1:21 PMReply

    I agree with the comments by Peter below. This is the problem with many other critics as well. If the performance (s) are great than the movie deserves a generally positive review. Some of critics however are stating that Streep is great (as usual) but the movie isn't and thus the review comes out generally negative. This is furthermore skewing the 'Rottentomatoes' meter. Rottentomatoes take mixed reviews like Matltin's and put it in the negative column even though he has praised Streep and stated she is worth watching.
    I am very dissapointed in these critics and their failure to get the point and failure to understand what makes a 'good' film.

  • Brett | December 30, 2011 1:11 AMReply

    Pallid biography. LOL great description.

  • peter | December 28, 2011 3:00 AMReply

    leonard, i'm sorry to say say u missed the point...MERYL STREEP IS THE MOVIE AND THE MOVIE IS MERYL STREEP..this is what makes her so incredible to watch in what is probably the best performance of her career. when i saw her she was a woman who happened to be margaret thatcher ....she is the the perfect example of form follows function....the movie is only as strong as her performance and saying that it is an incredible performance should at least make it a good movie, lol

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