Film review: THE IRON LADY, from Built for Speed

The Iron Lady which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd and stars Meryl Streep recounts the life of Margaret Thatcher Britain’s Prime Minister from 1979 – 1990.

The idea of the Mamma Mia director Phylida Lloyd helming a film about Margaret Thatcher, one of the most significant and controversial political figures of the 20th century, was a dubious one. While some of the feared campy flourishes are present this is still a solid biopic of the conservative icon.

The film employs a flashback structure in which present day Thatcher recalls significant events from her life. We see her rise through the Conservative Party, her election as the first female leader of a western democracy, her battles with unions, the IRA and with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Strangely, the film skims over her famed relationship with Ronald Reagan.

The present day scenes emphasize her sad decline into dementia and her stern refusal to accept the illness and her loss of independence. In an unusual, almost Dickensian Christmas Carol device Thatcher hallucinates that she is talking to late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and debating the choices she has made in her life. This device is overused and becomes irritating.

Fortunately, a terrific central performance from Meryl Streep as Thatcher holds the film together. She’s a little florid and mannered at times and her puffy ageing make-up has her her looking like Martin Short character Jiminy Glick but she succeeds in powerfully conveying Thatcher’s fierce drive to succeed in and be unintimidated by the male-dominated political world.

Political films always generate controversy over the depiction of central character; detractors think the film is too kind while supporters say it doesn’t do that political figure enough credit.  This will no doubt be the case with The Iron Lady.  I thought the film was reasonably balanced, recognising Thatcher’s achievements while critiquing the negative aspects of her character particularly the way her belief in hard work and self-determination – traits cultivated by her war-time working class upbringing – seemed to mutat into a brutal lack of empathy for the have nots.

This is a patchy and flawed film but often compelling and definitely worth seeing for Streep’s Oscar-bait performance.

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