“The Iron Lady” has been hailed as yet another tour de force for Meryl Streep, playing Margaret Thatcher, the lady in question. During her reign—and I use the term advisedly--as British Prime Minister in the ‘80s, she roiled the waters constantly, stirring passions on either side of the political aisle.
A Conservative, Thatcher stuck to her guns about changing the direction of the British economy, as well as turning British guns on Argentina during the Falkland Islands conflict. Along with Ronald Reagan, she insisted on cutting down the size of government, considerably weakening the trade unions and consistently facing down her opponents in the Labor party.
The movie looks back at her career, of course, but most of it focuses upon the latter years of her private life. The once-powerful and razor sharp politico is now in the throes of dementia, her memory and critical faculties failing her. She is prone to hallucinations, most notably that her late husband, Dennis, is still alive. As wonderfully realized by veteran Jim Broadbent, Dennis functions as both her supporter and her conscience. His line, “Steady, M.T.,” echoes in her mind as she faces the decline in influence and acuity that her post-Parliament years entail.
Their relationship, developed in flashback from their first meeting in the 1950s, is perhaps the most fetching part of the film. The young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) and Dennis (Harry Lloyd) are portrayed as romantics, both in their love and their aims. Director Phyllida Lloyd repeats the shot of them holding hands as they attend musicals, the opera, and social events, capturing their essential friendship. So the shift to the elderly woman by herself, haunted by his ghost, as it were, is especially poignant.
Streep has won a Golden Globe and been nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress. She never quite disappears into the role, though, in part because the makeup just doesn’t do the job, in part because we are always aware that we’re watching a performance, rather than accepting the illusion. Americans are likely to be lost among the some of the political history, as Brits might be in a movie about the Reagan years. And “The Iron Lady,” at a bit under two hours, might make you wish certain parts of your anatomy were iron, too. (Significantly, the movie itself was not nominated for Best Picture.)
Overshadowed by Streep’s and Broadbent’s star turns is some nice work by a corps of British actors, too numerous to detail here. I also loved cinematographer Elliot Davis’s work and the subtle job of film editor Justine Wright: they keep the movie from bogging down in talk, or simply becoming another biopic recounting the achievements of an important historical figure.
“The Iron Lady” is rated “PG-13” for violent image and some brief nudity. I’m guessing that teenagers and their younger siblings would find the movie beyond their ken or their interest and attention levels. The legion of Streep fans will love it, and history buffs should find the mix of personal and political intriguing.