- Production Values
The Iron Lady is a film in which the acting so outweighs the directing and script that it is distracting. The Iron Lady is a biographical picture that tells the story of Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Britain. It is a common cinematic tool to have a story bookended by the protagonist at the end of their story retrospecting the story. The Iron Lady does that, but it doesn’t just bookend. The central structure of the story is an elderly Margaret Thatcher, experiencing the early stages of dementia. Her memories of her past are strong, but she is often confused about the present and hallucinates visions of her deceased husband, Denis Thatcher. Various things, from household mementos to TV news stories incite flashback memories of key points in Margaret Thatcher’s life.
Meryl Streep is beyond brilliant in this film. That is a sentence that could be cut and pasted into almost every film she does, but here so it is even more true because she is taking on the role of a real, larger that life figure that is recognizable to most of the audience. She plays her across the full spectrum from idealistic naivete at the beginning of her career to the dominant presence in any room, to flinty exhaustion near the end of her career and finally as a frail and fading elderly figure. It really is a tour de force.
Unfortunately the directing and script are not so much. The constant flashing back and forth between key incidents and the present rob the story of a sense of timeline or narrative. The flashbacks are often interspersed with news footage of events like riots and the war in the Falklands. Several of those are backed with a punk music soundtrack, completely incongruous with what is supposed to be the reminisces of an elderly woman. So much time is spent on scenes of Lady Thatcher packing away her deceased husband’s belongings – time that could have been spent with more scenes of her at her prime or maybe of her contemporaries providing their perspective of the events.
The film is no doubt controversial because of the political nature of the protagonist. We live in a society where we seem to be split into two teams of idiots – each viewing the other as a monster. The reality is that people such as Margaret Thatcher find themselves in situations where they have to make decisions the rest of us never have to face. It would have been nice to see more of that expressed in the film.
The film is worth seeing for Meryl Streep’s performance alone, but if could have been so much more.