Mark Reviews Movies

The Iron Lady


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Julian Wadham, Susan Brown, Nick Dunning

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 12/30/11 (limited); 1/13/12 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 13, 2012

According to The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher did some things, became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, did some other things, and now dawdles around her apartment, hallucinating about her dead husband and having extended flashbacks to all those things she did. Surely, a biography about a figure who has inspired so many people and still remains controversial to this date could take a stance about her besides the trite observation that even the most powerful must eventually fall.

At the very least, Margaret Thatcher's life deserves to be portrayed in more specific terms instead of as a series of montages of vague political platitudes and generic risings and fallings. No matter what one might think of her for her policies, the movie is a disservice to the very idea it endorses by its very existence: Showing the human being behind the public image. The Iron Lady barely makes a mark on the surface of the life of the first and, so far, only female to head Her Majesty's Government in the UK.

Abi Morgan's screenplay is really an extended montage, beginning with an elderly Thatcher (Meryl Streep) buying milk at a local grocer. She is, essentially, under house arrest for her own safety with a 24-hour police guard standing watch outside her spacious flat. She sits at the kitchen table to have breakfast with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who disappears as soon as another person enters the room.

Whatever parallel this delusion may have to the real-life health problems of the actual subject, Thatcher's dementia in the movie is merely a gimmick—a lazy opportunity to provide the time-weaving story with a narrator who can offer miniscule details of Thatcher's character in between the rattling off of events in her life. It's particularly disheartening in light of Broadbent's hearty performance, which, with its good-humored sympathy, serves as a fine counter-balance to the stern eponymous character.

The contrivances fly off the screen from the start of the narrative proper, as the mention of a Rodgers and Hammerstein revue (The words are essentially underlined) brings about Thatcher's memory of holding of her husband's hand at a stage production of The King and I. There's no subtlety to the setups, and director Phyllida Lloyd treats the payoffs in an equally overblown manner.

While Thatcher watches an old home movie of her family at the beach, the image of her young son leaps off the screen and begins running through her apartment for no reason except to hammer home the point that she is haunted by her past (A surprised yelp from Thatcher only punctuates the unintentional humor). The news of a terrorist bombing brings to her mind the bombing of a hotel at which she was staying prior to a conference for her political party. There comes a point when the props within the setting begin to draw focus away from the people inhabiting it, and when our eye catches a statue of a pair of soldiers, we can only anticipate the retelling of Thatcher's role in the Falklands War.

First things are first, though, and her flashbacks (which, save for a few glimpses of non-linear events and flashbacks within flashbacks, play out with conventional chronology—an oddity no matter what the state of one's mind might be) first show us a young Margaret Roberts (Alexandra Roach) as she climbs the social ranks from the daughter of a grocer (Iain Glen) to Oxford University to running for political office to gaining a seat in Parliament. Along the way, she meets a young Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd), who loves her for her ambition and independence. "I cannot die washing a tea cup," she tells him, bluntly foreshadowing the tragedy of becoming ordinary after being extraordinary, which Morgan and Lloyd portray quite literally by the movie's end.

Streep takes over in the reminiscences a few years prior to Thatcher's election to Prime Minister, and it's a skilled bit mimicry, aided immensely by some expertly implemented makeup. As Prime Minister, the country is a shambles (Note the turmoil of unemployment, the demonizing of trade unions after their leaders make questionable decisions on behalf of their members, and the talk of fiscal responsibility on the part a government, and realize there is most definitively a relevant story hiding somewhere between the lines) until an economic boom after the Falklands Conflict, which raises her popularity ("You've gone from the most hated Prime Minister in recent history" to this, the ghost of Denis bludgeons). Due to her unapologetically harsh temperament, there's a struggle for power within her party forming in the background.

As mentioned before, this is intended to be a tragedy—a meteoric rise plus a fatal flaw equals a precipitous drop. Well the real story of Margaret Thatcher might be, too. The Iron Lady is indeed tragic, though for reasons that have nothing to do with the story at hand.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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