The Iron Lady **
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd.
Written by: Abi Morgan.
Starring: Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher), Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher), Susan Brown (June),
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Susie), Iain Glen (Alfred Roberts), Alexandra Roach (Young Margaret Thatcher), Olivia Colman (Carol Thatcher), Harry Lloyd (Young Denis Thatcher), Amanda Root (Amanda), Nicholas Farrell (Airey Neave), John Sessions (Edward Heath), Anthony Head (Geoffrey Howe), Richard E. Grant (Michael Heseltine), Angus Wright (John Nott), Roger Allam (Gordon Reece).
Margaret Thatcher was one of the most powerful and controversial women of the 20th Century. The first woman elected to be Prime Minister of England in 1979, who won three times, and was loved and hated in equal doses during her political career – and remains so today. A biopic of her should be fascinating – a must for political junkies like myself. But The Iron Lady isn’t fascinating at all. It is poorly written and directed, and despite an amazing performance by Meryl Streep in the lead role, ultimately a bore. The filmmakers don’t seem to have any opinion about Thatcher at all, and worse yet, they provide no insights into her as either a person or a politician. They spend more time showing Thatcher as an old woman, inflicted with Alzheimer’s, dottering around her house, talking to her dead husband, than on any other aspect of her life and career. Is that really the most interesting part of Margaret Thatcher’s life?
Among the things you won’t see in The Iron Lady is how she won her seat in Parliament in 1959 (not an easy feat for a woman at that time), how she got selected for a Cabinet position, how she won the leadership of her party, how she won any of her three elections to be Prime Minster or how she was forced out by her own party (which gets a few cursory scenes, but if you buy the reasoning that she was forced out because she yelled at a underling, you’re more willing to suspend disbelief than I am). Her conflict with the IRA is mentioned in passing, including the hunger strikes, the riots that followed her deep spending cuts are shown, but with little context. The decision to go to war over the Falkland islands is given the most screen time of anything she does as Prime Minister, and even that barely scratches the surface.
What of her private life? We see a scene when she first leaves home to go to Parliament where her children literally run after the car for a ridiculously long time telling her not to go, one scene where her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) gets angry at her for putting her family second to her career, and that’s about it.
It seems to me that the filmmakers couldn’t decide on what to cover about Thatcher, her life or career, so they try to cover it all in only the broadest of strokes. There is zero insight into who she was as a person or a politician. A good movie about Thatcher could have painted her as a hero, like many on the right saw her, or as a villain, as many on the left did. A great movie could have shown both of those sides. Margaret Thatcher was a politician that everyone had a strong opinion of. The filmmakers don’t seem to have any opinion at all.
Somehow, through it all, Meryl Streep delivers a great performance. She nails Thatcher’s voice, and commands the same authority that she did. She holds your attention for every second of the movie. Equally good at being the screeching politician in the House of Commons she was often accused of, as she is at commanding authority in a room full of men who look down at her, to being a woman who doesn’t always remember where she is, or what she’s doing, Streep is once again, brilliant. If someone wanted to make another, better biopic of Margaret Thatcher, they should again try and get Streep to play the role. There is a great performance in there for her to deliver, and she shows here she is more than capable of doing so.
But The Iron Lady isn’t that movie. It doesn’t deserve Streep’s performance, because the film has nothing at all interesting to say about her. Who the hell looks at the life of Margaret Thatcher, arguably the most powerful woman of the 20th Century, and decides that the most interesting thing about her is that late in life her mind started to go? Apparently, the filmmakers behind this movie.