Meryl. I think she deserves to be known by one name by now. What an actress! What an amazing variety of roles she has played in the past few years: It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, Doubt, The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia! and so many others. Now she brings us another of her memorable performances as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Unfortunately, it is not all that good a movie. Yes, Meryl is her usual great self, but Maggie just is not likable or layered. And the script does not help.
The Iron Lady is one of those flashback retellings of a life that is just a little too constructed and non-contextual for my taste. We meet Maggie Thatcher in her last days as she is suffering from dementia and wandering around talking to her dead husband (Jim Broadbent). As she putters around the house alternately dealing with her many handlers, her grown daughter, and the ghost of Mr. Thatcher, she looks back over her political life, and her rise to become the first and only female Prime Minister of England. She begins as a very working class girl, the proverbial shopkeeper’s daughter who gets into Oxford and then scratches her way into the male dominated political field and all the way to the top. Along the way, she marries and has twins, but mostly they are peripheral. The conspicuously missing piece is what drove this woman and what was really happening around her. Why were they rioting in the streets? Why did she hate unions? What was it about the Falklands that was worth having hundreds of young men die? I think this may be one of those scripts that assumes the audience knows the history. (We Yanks did not.)
There is a scene near the end where she is so over-the-top horrible to one of her long-time political allies that she turns the whole party against her, but we don’t know why. Was it the early onset of dementia or was she drinking? Or maybe she was just a bitch? The film has lots of little moments that don’t quite make sense. You also have no sense of what is historic fact and what is total fiction. I think there is probably a great story to be told about Thatcher. Sure, I hated her politics, but she was charismatic and intelligent enough to make it to the top despite her class and her sex, and to stand among the most powerful people of her time. Sadly, The Iron Lady does not do her justice. Meryl aside, I’d skip it.
As of this writing Meryl Streep has been nominated all over the place and won the Golden Globe for her performance.