Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch the Teaser Trailer for Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' Watch the Teaser Trailer for Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition The Dramatic Story Behind Satyajit Ray's 50s Masterpiece 'The Apu Trilogy' (Exclusive) The Dramatic Story Behind Satyajit Ray's 50s Masterpiece 'The Apu Trilogy' (Exclusive) MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever

The Iron Lady Review: No Thatcher Hatchet Job, Streep Splendid

Thompson on Hollywood By David Gritten | Thompson on Hollywood November 15, 2011 at 11:39AM

The Iron Lady Review: No Thatcher Hatchet Job, Streep Splendid
3
Meryl Streep stars as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep stars as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady


Two preconceptions about "The Iron Lady," the long anticipated film about Margaret Thatcher’s life, are laid to rest on seeing it. The first was that it would be a hatchet job on our former Prime Minister. Not so: the film is relatively even-handed, and for long stretches sympathetic to its subject.
 
The second was that it was a travesty for American actress Meryl Streep to be playing such a very English character. Well, those doubts have been assuaged too; Streep is splendid, giving a detailed, authoritative performance that goes way beyond accurate impersonation to evoke Thatcher’s demeanour and spirit. One can think of a few talented British actresses who might have acquitted themselves well in the role, but in fairness it’s hard to imagine them doing it better than Streep.
 
Screenwriter Abi Morgan (TV’s "The Hour") has fashioned a story rooted in the present, with Thatcher in her 80s, afflicted with memory loss, largely confined to her Chester Square home and reluctantly facing the task of clearing out the clothes of her husband Denis, who died eight years previously.
 
This device allows personal belongings and garments to trigger memories of her past life, which is then re-created in flashback. Cue a brisk gallop through a life forged by her passion for politics – starting in her teens in Grantham, where she worked in the grocery store owned by her father, the town’s Conservative mayor. (She is splendidly portrayed in these early scenes by British actress Alexandra Roach, in a breakout role as a toothy, earnest, slightly humourless young Margaret.)
 
From then on, it’s strictly chronological. She’s elected to Parliament, becomes Education Secretary, leader of the Tory Party and Britain’s first woman P.M. -- at which point she finally gets to wreak her will. Events come and go in a blur -- IRA attacks, war in the Falklands, surviving the Brighton bombing, the miners’ strike, the Big Bang, poll tax riots – before her leadership crumbles.
 
These episodes are interrupted by continued returns to the present, as she shuffles around her bedroom. This is a double-edged script device. On one hand, to portray Margaret Thatcher for so much of the film in a state of dementia feels skewed. Yet it must be said that these scenes of her in her dotage are by far the most affecting.
 
In this state, her late husband appears to her, and they talk, both amiably and tetchily. (Denis is played by Jim Broadbent in a reading not far removed from Private Eye’s Dear Bill column, as a convivial, mischievous golf club yarn-spinner, always ready for the next ‘snifter.’)
 
His presence is a trick of a failing mind, of course, but only in these present-day passages can Streep play the Iron Lady with any vulnerability. In the amusing opening scene, she has eluded her personal security guard and sneaked out to the local corner shop (as if!) to buy a pint of milk, the price of which astonishes her. Yet a point is being made here: even as Prime Minister she was sufficiently in touch to know what ordinary people paid for groceries.
 
For much of her tenure in Number 10, there’s less of a character to mine: she’s mostly an implacable, relentless force of nature who just brushes resistance aside.
 
Significantly, the key players in The Iron Lady are women -- Streep, Morgan and director Phyllida Lloyd. Men, whether the guffawing grotesques she encounters on entering Parliament, or the weak, compliant members of her Cabinet, generally receive short shrift.
 
Still, there’s an electrifying moment in Cabinet when she launches the rant against her deputy Geoffrey Howe that led him to resign. It’s clearly excessive on her part, and Lloyd employs a series of jump cuts to indicate as much – and maybe to foreshadow her dementia.
 
How people react to The Iron Lady depends on their attitude to her. David Cameron and Nick Clegg may squirm at a line in which she mocks coalitions. Trade unionists, especially ex-steelworkers and miners, will find it too kindly. It may not find favour in Argentina. (“Sink it!” she snarls about the Belgrano.) Yet American Republicans, currently lacking a presidential candidate with a fraction of Thatcher’s conviction and confidence, will surely drool at it.
 
This is a brave stab at a contemporary life, and even with its flaws it does Margaret Thatcher a certain grudging justice. Awards should be coming Streep’s way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.

[Posted by permission of the author, this review was originally published in The Daily Telegraph.]

This article is related to: Reviews, Meryl Streep, Reviews, Biopics, Weinsteins


E-Mail Updates