Director: Phylida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Stars: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
The best thing I did before watching The Iron Lady was reading some reviews. Not that they affected my opinion, but they changed what I was expecting. Based off the trailers, I was expecting a biopic bookended by present day Margaret Thatcher remembering her past. What you actually get is an approximately fifty-fifty split between present day Thatcher and her past.
The film begins on a very high note with my two favorite scenes, both set in the present. The first is of Thatcher (Meryl Streep) in line at the local grocer to purchase milk. In front of her is a businessman talking on the phone focused only on his conversation and the cashier. Behind her is a women too young to recognize her. Next we are at her home at the Breakfast table with Denis (Jim Broadbent), her husband, where she is talking about the cost of milk and insisting he eat his egg while the both are carrying on a conversation. We then hear someone else in the house who comes to inquire how Thatcher is doing. We cut back to the table and see she is eating alone.
Quick sidebar–the current condition of Margaret Thatcher’s health is unknown. She has had strokes, but there has been no official announcement of her suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Her daughter has said she does suffer from memory loss but has never mentioned any hallucinations–now back to the review.
To me, the film’s story of present day Margaret Thatcher now becomes her journey to let Denis go, and accept he is no longer physically there. It begins with her assistant and her daughter offering to help her pack his old suits and clothing, and ends with them packed and him walking down the hall into the light. In between are scenes of dinner with friends, autographing books, listening to music from which we flashback to her past. A past as a shop keeper’s daughter who rises to Parliament and beyond. Quick flashbacks of key moments in her life framed by the regular pace of the present-day scenes.
The direction by Phylida Lloyd and screenplay by Abi Morgan are adequate. My one criticism is the way in which Thatcher was depicted before she resigned as Prime Minister. The entire film had a certain slow-quick pace between the present-day and the flashback scenes, respectively. But the scenes of her last year in power seemed over-the-top: sometimes the shots were at slight angles and the character became a caricature–Cruella de Vil to be exact.
The performance–and in this film there is only one that matters–is more than adequate. Meryl Streep was correctly nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress and won the Golden Globe for it. She completely loses herself in the role. As good as she was as the younger Thatcher, the greater performance is as the elderly Thatcher. Streep never looks like she is acting, and at the same time demands all of your attention when other people are in the scene. Her monologue at the doctor’s office about thinking instead of feeling is worth the price of admission alone, but it is the quiet moments that I enjoyed the best–buying the milk at the grocer, having breakfast alone.
Though some may find fault with the structure of the movie I think it works–once you know that this is not a traditional biopic. If the marketing campaign had released a more accurate trailer I think the movie would have received better reviews. Do you have to watch this in the theatre? No. This film is all about one performance; one you can enjoy at home or out at the movies.
Grade = B