By Max Lalanne, film critic
The Iron Lady in all honestly should have been called Maggie or Margaret and Dennis or something else like that.
Because Phyllida Lloyd’s oddly-constructed, somewhat uneven film about Margaret Thatcher, who became Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979 in a government wholly run by men, is not what you could call a straight forward biopic that starts at the beginning and ends, well, at the end. The Iron Lady would have worked better if it was that, but it’s not. And that’s a pity.
Instead, when we first see Margaret Thatcher (a heavily made-up Meryl Streep), she’s a dithering, dementia-sticken old lady who hallucinates that her late husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent), is still alive and whose daughter (Olivia Colman) regards with oddly non-understanding eyes, as if she saw her deteriorating mother only once a year. Margaret lives in a gray, modestly gloomy apartment surrounded by photos and tapes and various miscellanea of her epic life, which serve as good starting point for lengthy flashbacks to commence and helps muddle up Margaret’s mind even more.
Once the flashbacks start, though, you wish they weren’t constantly intercut with more scenes of old Margaret observing them and that they just stayed in one time and place – for at least 20 minutes or so. Quickly edited, sharply moving sequences start introducing us to Margaret Thatcher, her love for her newfound husband, her struggle to enter a male-dominated political government, her meteoric rise all the way to Prime Minister, and her struggles (the Falkland Islands crisis is just one of the pulse-pounding incidents while she was in power) while ruggedly maintaining her position- while frustratingly intercutting back to old Margaret staring fondly at some dusty photo while an annoying hallucination of her husband blabs incessantly behind her.
The Iron Lady jumps back and forth, exploiting and exhausting every single flashback the filmmakers could fit in, throughout the whole film. And it becomes, honestly, distracting and annoying.
Thankfully for The Iron Lady the totally astounding Meryl Streep is there.
There’s been so much brouhaha around her performance, which was doubled when Streep took home the Best Actress Oscar, that prior to watching the film there is only one view you can possibly hold: “Okay, so Streep’s an amazing actress and we all know it because she won an Oscar. Great.” But listen here, because Streep truly pulls off a magical achievement that was unparalleled and she deserved all the praise and awards she received. When she’s not caked up in unflattering old-age makeup, like she is for a great majority of the film, Streep is allowed to really nail her role with powerful spirit and damn good acting that is truly superb.
A more diminutive title like Maggie would’ve definitely worked better because no matter how they try the story structure prevents The Iron Lady from truly living up to its name – this ends up not being a film about Margaret Thatcher’s impressive full life and career, but instead a slightly depressing if sweet story about a frail old lady trying to get rid of ghosts. Good thing for us, then, that old lady is Meryl Streep.
My rating: 2 1/2 stars (out of 5)