The Iron Lady (The Weinstein Company, PG-13)

 

film iron-lady_smThe main problem with The Iron Lady is the script by Abi Morgan. I’m all in favor of new approaches to the biopic, but if you’re going to throw away the obvious (chronological) path, you need to provide something more interesting in its place.

 

 

film iron-lady_lg

The Iron Lady is one of those problematic films that contain several things that are good, and one that is excellent, yet seem in the end seems to have no particular need to have been made in the first place. I’d love to see a real biopic of Margaret Thatcher concentrating on the period leading up to and including her years as Britain’s first female Prime Minister and placing her extraordinary career in historical perspective. What The Iron Lady gives us instead is a peculiar focus on an elderly woman, in ill health and suffering from mental confusion, with occasional flashbacks to her earlier years when she was doing the things that made us interested in her life.

Still, Meryl Streep delivers not only the performance of the year but perhaps of her career as Margaret Thatcher, and the film is worth seeing for her performance alone. Streep is ably supported by, among others, Jim Broadbent as her husband Denis, Alexandra Roach as the young Margaret, Olivia Colman as her daughter Carol, and Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe, Thatcher’s Deputy Prime Minister. Phyllida Lloyd’s direction is excellent, and the technical package is impeccable, including cinematography by Elliot David, costume design by Consolata Boyle, makeup and hair by Marese Langan (with J. Roy Helland doing Streep’s), production design by Simon Elliott, and set decoration by Annie Gihooly.

In some ways, The Iron Lady provides an ironic counterpoint to last year’s much-honored The King’s Speech. Whereas Tom Hooper’s film portrays an England unified by common beliefs (including an extraordinary faith in the monarchy as well as the elected government) and preparing to stand up to one of the greatest evils modern civilization has ever faced, Thatcher’s years as Prime Minister (1979 to 1990) included the destruction of much of that common culture through decreased expenditures on social services and the privatization of national utilities and industries. Thatcher’s years were also marked by bitter strikes (remember the coal workers in Billy Elliott?), the British invasion of theFalklands, and the death of the hunger striker Bobby Sands. Hardly the kind of story likely to pack in the Anglophiles and fans of Heritage Television, is it?

The main problem with The Iron Lady is the script by Abi Morgan (who also co-wrote the screenplay for Shame, a movie which makes much better use of the fragmented psyche of its protagonist). I’m all in favor of new approaches to the biopic, but if you’re going to throw away the obvious (chronological) path, you need to provide something more interesting in its place. What Morgan gives us instead is a cruel focus on Thatcher’s declining years (and, face it, we could all be there some day ourselves) with tantalizing glimpses at a young and middle-aged woman of extreme ambition and accomplishment. The problem is that these scenes of Thatcher in her prime (and I’m no admirer of her policies) are too brief and uncontextualized, while we keep returning again and again to an old woman, wandering about in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, who really has no claim on our interest. | Sarah Boslaugh

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