The Iron Lady

Released: 2012
Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman

A brilliant, but uncomfortable, portrayal of a great woman

According to those in the know Meryl Streep is absolutely certain to win the Best Actress Oscar this year for her performance of Margaret Thatcher in the biopic The Iron Lady. But is her performance really that good? And was the Academy right to nominate Streep for her performance but snub the film in the Best Picture category and Phyllida Lloyd in the Directing list? The simple answers are yes, yes and absolutely yes.

I was expecting a fairly straight biopic but instead the story begins with an elderly and frail Baroness Thatcher living in a dream world where she discusses her political career with her long dead husband Denis. Thatcher’s daughter Carol worries as her mother seems to be losing her hold on reality. Through flashbacks we see key moments in Thatcher’s life including listening to her grocer father giving political speeches, her first election and her first day in Parliament. The time frame moves quickly and in just 105 minutes we zip through the Miners’ Strike, Brighton bombing, Falklands War, Poll Tax riots, fall of the Berlin Wall and Michael Heseltine’s challenge for the leadership in 1990.

Streep was absolutely brilliant as Thatcher. She captured the strength, determination, courage and stubbornness of both the Prime Minister and the ailing elderly lady that Thatcher is today. The supporting cast also offer good performances particularly Alexandra Roach as the young Thatcher, Jim Broadbent as Denis and Olivia Colman as Carol. I’m stunned Colman hasn’t been nominated for any awards as she is fantastic, hopefully she will soon start to receive the recognition she deserves. Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe was almost unrecognisable and completely convinced in the role of the meek man driven to leave the Cabinet by the Prime Minister’s intransigence. The only false note was Richard E Grant as Michael Heseltine – he just didn’t convince in the slightest. Despite the efforts of the ensemble this is Streep’s film, she owns the role and dominates the screen. I think I finally understand why she’s so highly regarded.

Great acting however doesn’t make a great film. The script by Abi Morgan is good enough but we do zip through the action far too quickly and the fact that so much was out of sequence annoyed me slightly. Only the Falklands War was given any time to develop as a story, but as it took place in the film after the Brighton bombing it was completely out of place.  The political geek in me was also sorry that we didn’t see more of Thatcher campaigning to be elected as an MP or as Party leader and we didn’t get any of the fun of the 1983 or 1987 general elections.

The direction by Mamma Mia helmer Phyllida Lloyd is over the top and pantomime-like at times. One scene which elicited a snort showed weak, bullying men bear down on poor Margaret who adjusts her boobs in a classy evening dress while insisting that harsh spending cuts are necessary. And why were no other women shown in Parliament? I know that the House of Commons is predominately male but Thatcher was never the only woman but you wouldn’t know that from watching this film.

Fans of Thatcher will love the portrayal of a strong woman with more balls than all of the men in the Cabinet put together. Detractors will love the arrogance shown and some will find it funny to see their bête noire brought so low on the big screen. While the acting was excellent and the film good, I did feel uncomfortable watching a great woman’s mental decline used as a starting point for a piece of entertainment, I very much enjoyed the film but wonder if it should have been made yet.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Speak Your Mind