Movie Review: The Iron Lady
Within just over a month’s time, we have in our filmdom a collection of movies featuring powerful, influential, and unforgiving women. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander commanded the screen in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Next week, mixed-martial artist Gina Carano will take centre stage among many fine actors in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. Glenn Close stars in the much anticipated Albert Nobbs, while Pariah recently introduced the world to the incredibly charming and earnest Adepero Oduye. Even Kate Beckinsale and her incredibly tight black outfit returns as a vampire in Underworld.
This week we have another unrelenting and compelling female. Amid these varied films is The Iron Lady, a pleasing, efficient, and simple look at the rise and fall of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher without ever becoming too bothersome or challenging, and one that is never subtle or shrewd, even if it’s titular hero is.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, it is of course a vehicle for the incredible Meryl Streep as Thatcher, and is as much about her acting ability as it is about the power and legacy of the first female Prime Minister. The film opens with the elderly former leader stubbornly sneaking out of her home for milk, refusing to ask any of her caretakers to tend to the errand.
She is not the woman she once was, however mulish she remains, and is forced to deal with a weakened body and mind and most significantly, learn how to let go of the past. The clothes and memories of her deceased husband Denis are everywhere, as is he—Jim Broadbent as the Iron Lady’s man lingers with her, as the two enjoy breakfast together, dance, and bicker, just as they did when they were alive. Her hallucinations are troubling to some, but to her she is just not ready to say to goodbye, and so the two of them reflect on the past.
The tale of the story is apparent right from the beginning, and never becomes any more or less complex: it is about knowing when to stand firm, and learning when to let go.
The film often reminiscent of last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech, in which we see quite personally the afflictions plaguing powerful and public leaders. Both are well done and driven by characters, though neither make any attempt to surprise, disturb, tarnish, or dismay. The Iron Lady briefly shocks as it litters the film with real footage of violent riots and scenes of war, but only briefly.
Most importantly, like The King’s Speech¸ we have in The Iron Lady a movie that Hollywood wants to be known for: a well made, impeccably acted, and ultimately uplifting tale about perseverance and love, without ever getting too intense or dark. The politics matter not in the movie, and there is little attempt at nuance. Time and time again we see Ms. Streep stand firm, as expected, against resistance, political or otherwise.
Ultimately, it is all about Ms. Streep. While the film itself may not be subtle or deep, Ms. Streep’s captivating performance certainly is. Her piercing blue eyes tell a story in every scene, as does the delicate way she smiles and moves her lips. We see her weakened and frail as an old woman, assessing her actions as a world leader, while also trying to deal with her personal problems. We see her as the stern Prime Minister, shouting down political adversaries, challenging her advisors, and acting as Commander-in-Chief as she wages war against Argentina.
It is hard to look away from Ms. Streep at any point during the film, something carefully done by design. With white pearls and her characteristic blue outfits, Thatcher stands out if for no other reason than the rest of the movie is black and grey. The male politicians, almost all of whom are exactly alike, possessing no care or mind for women, save for her two closest advisors, are clad in boring suits sporting ugly coiffures.
Broadbent is equally superb and constantly charming as he pokes and prods his wife from beyond the grave, and Alexandra Roach as a young Thatcher is impressive and just as commanding of her scenes. Both are incredibly worthy, and Lloyd allows them to take over at times. Roach is seen in the first part of the film, before Ms. Streep appears as the stoic leader, so as not to overshadow the young actress. Broadbent, meanwhile, perfectly riffs with Ms. Streep late at night as the very charming and loving couple they are.
The three are excellent, with Ms. Streep putting in an Oscar-winning performance. The film, perhaps not so much: any attempts at seeming to elicit political discourse, economic parallels, or feminist ideals are purely coincidental.