The Iron Lady (2012)
January 12, 2012 2 Comments
It’s present day, and Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is struggling to keep her mind as the painful memory of her late husband (Jim Broadbent) haunts her wherever she goes. Never free of his presence, the ex-Prime Minister fights senility in anticipation of the unveiling of her portrait at 10 Downing Street. Determined to exercise her burgeoning dementia by ridding herself of his old clothes, Thatcher finds herself re-living her life through a series of half-remembered episodes.
It seems that everyone has a problem with The Iron Lady, Phyllipa Lloyd’s directorial follow up to Mamma Mia!. Thatcher’s peers are outraged by the film’s timing, it’s depiction of the ex-Prime Minister potentially damaging not just to the political party, but the aged Lady herself. Her detractors, meanwhile, are faced with the prospect of two hours spent in the company of a heavily sentimentalised variant of their own personal anti-Christ. And this is after Lloyd has stripped her film of controversy, inadvertently robbing it of substance in the process.
So, if The Iron Lady isn’t actually about politics, as a decidedly optimistic Lloyd might have us believe, what exactly is it about? Well, everyone involved seems to have a different answer. To some it is a portrait of a feminist icon, to others it is a simple love story, while the director herself maintains that it is a film about ageing. While the filmmakers handle these errant threads with varying success, the unavoidable fact that the polarising figure of Margaret Thatcher has been chosen to play case study, sans her political baggage, leaves the film with a gigantic hole at its centre. An oliphant in the room, if you will.
Not that anyone appears to have alerted Meryl Streep, who duly approaches the role with a verve and attention to detail that goes some way to compensate for the screenplay’s distinct lack of spine. Having clearly done her research, Streep has amassed a truly amazing arsenal of nuances and idiosyncrasies that help veer this psuedo-biopic away from mere charicature. From budding politician to dementia-laden hate figure (by way of Prime Minister, of course), her performance is never anything short of astounding.
The supporting cast too are an absolute delight. Jim Broadbent fleshes out what could have been a truly gaudy gimmick as the bizarrely corporeal memory of Thatcher’s late husband, the actor’s own personal reservations about Thatcher Proper invisible beneath his customary warmth and humility. Olivia Colman, meanwhile, threatens to steal the show as Carol Thatcher, similarly avoiding pastiche in preference of sentiment and poignancy, leading to some undeniably touching moments. Beyond the core family, however (and maybe Anthony Stewart Head’s Geoffrey Howe), the rest of the film’s cast flit by in a passing resemblance to infamous faces past and present.
Unfortunately, this simply isn’t enough to paper over the cracks. The framing device just doesn’t work, with the narrative taking an absolutely grating amount of time to get underway. Considering just how much happened during Thatcher’s time in power (and if there is one thing to be said of the so-called Iron Lady it is that she had an eventful term in office), an absolutely unforgivable amount of time is wasted in conjecture, speculating as to the impact of Thatcher’s excursions to buy milk. There may be moments in this fabrication that work, but ultimately it fails to provide a workable starting point from which to explore her past.
Slight, tedious and painfully episodic, The Iron Lady marks little but a wasted opportunity, particularly disappointing due to the staggering amount of talent evident onscreen. Career-high performances are completely at odds with a misguided script, unremarkable direction and an unseemly amount of time spent watching an elderly Margaret Thatcher eat toast. Powerful, yes. But Lloyd seems to have forgotten that with great power also comes great responsibility.