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Movie review - The Iron Lady

04 Jan 2012
Meryl Streep astounds in this biopic of Margaret Thatcher
Decades after her fall from power, Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) reminisces about her life, accompanied by the ghost of her lost husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) and a tide of convoluted memories.

A big budget biopic of Maggie Thatcher featuring a massive Hollywood star may sound like a recipe for disaster but The Iron Lady sidesteps most to deliver a portrayal of the fearless PM that borders on riveting.

Much of that appeal is down to the incredible central performance from Streep. Behind latex and a flawless accent, its nigh on impossible to recognise the actress during the opening scenes. She’s long been heralded as a chameleonic actress but this transformation is simply extraordinary. Even in Thatcher’s middle years, when the physical resemblance is a little more marked, the actress seems totally subsumed by the role.

Character performances of this type are exceedingly rare but Streep’s accomplishment is so impressive that it can almost take over the narrative of the film. The story traces Thatcher’s life from her early years through the major triumphs and disasters of her reign – all loosely tied together by the increasingly fragile strands of her modern day mind.

For those unfamiliar with Thatcher’s life (that includes me) it’s an entertaining retread of her greatest hits, including her struggle to be recognised as a woman in parliament and the tensions surrounding the Falklands War. But while she is undoubtedly our protagonist, screenwriter Abi Morgan (who also wrote Steve McQueens Shame) tries to keep things as balanced as she can, illuminating the bullying tactics she used in office and her sometime indifference to her family.

There’s a top notch British cast supporting the American interloper, including Richard E. Grant, Anthony Head and Broadbent. With little screen time and less histrionics than Thatcher, it’s hard for any of them to make an impression, and you can’t help but wonder if director Lloyd (who also used Streep in Mamma Mia!) asked them to be purposefully innocuous. Only Olivia Coleman makes anything of her turn as Carol Thatcher, trying desperately to connect with his distant mother. After an appearance in Tyrannosaur, it’s clear she has a talent for dramatic roles far beyond her appearance in Peep Show.

The Iron Lady is an interesting portrait of one of the most significant political figures of the 20th century but gets so caught up in Streep’s chameleonic performance and it’s purposefully disjointed structure that it fails to teach us much, if anything, about the real Margaret Thatcher. Still, it’s worth a look to check out what could well be another Oscar winner for Meryl Streep.