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The Iron Lady (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

The Iron Lady


Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Iain Glen, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Susan Brown, Emma Dewhurst and Nicholas Farrell.

Screenplay by Abi Morgan.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company.  105 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Meryl Streep does a truly jaw-droppingly incredible job in The Iron Lady in inhabiting the life of Margaret Thatcher, the controversial first female Prime Minister of England. 

Streep nails the performance on every level – Thatcher’s talk, her countenance, her walk, her personality. It is spooky, if you have seen old footage of Thatcher, what Streep creates in The Iron Lady is uncanny. It was fully worthy of her recent Best Actress win for the role.

It is such a stunning example of acting, in fact, that you can’t help but wish that it was performed at the service of a better film.

For that matter, you can’t help but wish that Streep was putting all this craft and effort towards celebrating a worthier subject.

The Iron Lady suffers from its lead character, who comes off as headstrong, strident, humorless, unfeeling and unsympathetic through much of the film.

Early on in the film, it is intimated that Margaret Thatcher, like so many pioneering women, had to deal with sexism. Had she been a man, she would have been seen as strong and principled, but because she was a woman she was referred to as a bitch.

I hate to say this, as someone who believes in women’s equality, but that is exactly how she comes across all too often in this film. Right or wrong, she owns it.

Ironically, the other truly great biographical performance of the past year also highlights a woman with the same conservative ability to be divisive and speak convincingly about subjects they have little knowledge or compassion about – Julianne Moore’s incredible performance as Sarah Palin in the HBO movie Game Change. (Just for the record, Game Change is an infinitely better film than The Iron Lady and Moore’s performance is every bit as good as Streep’s. If it were not made for cable, Moore would have had a strong shot at taking home the Oscar next year.)

The Iron Lady introduces us to an elderly, infirm Thatcher towards the end of her life. She seems to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she forgets that her children have grown and moved away, and she regularly has conversations with her dead husband Denis (played by Jim Broadbent in the hallucinations and flashbacks as an older man). She is a prisoner in her own home – even just going out for a quart of milk becomes a huge deal and sets her staff on edge. She is periodically pulled out for affairs of state to smile and wave.

Then, as Thatcher tries to come to terms with throwing out her late husband’s clothes (though he had died years before), she flashes back to a greatest hits medley of Thatcher’s defining moments, going from the young, idealistic daughter of a grocer to England’s first female Prime Minister to eventually being forced out of the position.

Many of the big parts – like the 80s riots and the Falkland War – are essentially shown with short collages of news footage. Other more controversial stances are soft-pedaled or completely ignored. It would be easy to call The Iron Lady revisionist history, but honestly it doesn’t take more than a shallow look at even the things they got right. For a film about a politician whose life affected millions of people, very little of that effect is let on, and what is shown is mostly in context of how it changed Margaret Thatcher, not how it changed England.

The Iron Lady is worth seeing for Meryl Streep, but there are not all that many other reasons to recommend it.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: April 1, 2012.

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