The Iron Lady

Directed By: Phyllida Lloyd

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, and Richard E. Grant

Does great acting make a film great?  This awards season has answered this very important question.  Though it was never posed, it is worthwhile.  Well, the answer has consistently been an adamant "no".  Just look at Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar.  On paper, the film was destined for the Oscars.  What we got however was a subpar historical drama on one of America's most controversial men despite a great performance by the film's star Leonardo DiCaprio.  Crossing the pond for Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady produces similar results.  Meryl Streep puts down one fine piece of acting, but that's simply not enough to make the movie great.

An old, frail Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is clearing out the belongings of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent).  Still coping with the loss of her husband years later, she begins to hallucinate and imagine that he is still there with her.  She also begins to reminisce about the life they lived together and how he supported her throughout her entire political career.  As she reflects on her greatest triumphs and her greatest failures, there are flashbacks to key moments in Thatcher's life.  These memories are the events that made her the infamously controversial political figure she was.

Meryl Streep has done everything as an actress, and it's no surprise that she's simply awesome as Lady Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  She skillfully plays Thatcher in both her years as prime minister and her later years.  It's really two roles for her though.  Whether giving a powerhouse performance as a bold political leader or subtly portraying an elderly woman reflecting on life, she knocks it out of the park.  In portraying the Prime Minister Thatcher, Streep is delightful to watch on screen.  She's running things and makes that crystal clear.  As the elderly Thatcher, she gives a very nuanced performance that captures not only her character but also the fine physical details of being an older person.  She has the walk and the talk.  Streep is unbelievably good.

Now that the platitudes for Streep are out of the way, we can get down to business with what's wrong with The Iron Lady.  The film's greatest problem is its screenplay.  Screenwriter Abi Morgan wants to take viewers on a grand journey through the eyes of Thatcher, but she picks the wrong ride. 

Whether you love or hate her, Margaret Thatcher is one of the most influential political figures of the 20th century, and her story is a grand one.  Throughout the film, there's way too much focus on the older Thatcher and her hallucinations of Denis.  Morgan only glosses over the key moments in Thatcher's life for cheap pops.  This biopic would have been far better with a more straightforward narrative.  The elderly Lady Thatcher should have been seen at the beginning and end of the film.  Other than that, Morgan should have been focusing on the rise and fall of this grand political figure. 

Another issue with The Iron Lady is its portrayal of Sir Denis Thatcher as a bumbling buffoon.  The antics are entirely unnecessary.  Director Phyllida Lloyd has the talented Jim Broadbent and wastes him by having him wear atrocious hats and dancing like a fool.  I understand the point of this.  Lloyd wants to bring a little humor to the film.  However, it's quite an odd portrayal that adds very little comic value. 

The Iron Lady is truly a misuse of the talents of Meryl Streep.  Instead of covering the rise and fall of an icon, she's reduced to portraying a rusty old iron lady suffering from dementia.  While Streep delivers an amazing performance as usual, that's not enough here.  The Iron Lady is a film that could have been so much more.  I regret that you'll need to grab a little moscato for this movie because The Iron Lady gets a 0.06% rating.