The Iron Lady
Although it will surely be billed as a biopic on Britain’s first female Prime Minister, THE IRON LADY plays more like a pedestrian telling of a senile elderly woman looking back on various high and low points in her life. If you don’t know much about Margaret Thatcher before watching this film, you’re not going to learn much more about her when you leave. You will, however, be reminded that growing old is not fun.
The film is told in two interwoven storylines, one involving a very elderly Thatcher fighting through old age and hallucinations (but not doing much else) and the other bounces around certain points in her life as she ascends the political ladder in Great Britain. In most biopics told in flashbacks, the time looking back on the life in question is traditionally the focal point. But with THE IRON LADY, the flashbacks are truly that; flashes. There’s no coherent structure of the events and they don’t combine to tell a greater story. Being the first female Prime Minister of a powerful country is a huge accomplishment, but the filmmakers barely glossed over how she ascended to power. For all intent and purposes, Margaret Thatcher lived a fascinating life and overcame many obstacles on her way to becoming Prime Minister. Which is why it’s so confusing that a movie about her could be so boring and say so little.
Meryl Streep will once again get all the attention for her remarkable portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. But this is one of the few times where the quality of the film doesn’t equal her performance. In fact, if not for her acting (especially as the elderly Thatcher), then THE IRON LADY would have been nearly unwatchable. Perhaps it was her immaculate portrayal that was the eventual downfall of the film; maybe director Phyllida Lloyd was so enamored with Streep’s performance that it became more about showcasing her performance and less about telling a story (a similar wrong turn occurred in the equally misguided, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN).
Although they were completely overshadowed, Streep’s supporting cast did well with what little screen time they had. Jim Broadbent was great as her late husband and Anthony Head (yes, Giles from the Buffy phenom) managed to create a sympathetic and interesting character with even less time. Tragically, the death of Airey Neave (Nicholas Farrell) was one of the more confusing aspects of the film as Lloyd milked it to drive sentiment from the audience, yet spent zero time establishing him as a character. This was truly the Meryl Streep show, but there were other, strong performances in the film that could have shined if given a little more focus.
Biopics are not always easy films to tell. If the person isn’t still relevant in society, then there’s a pressure on the filmmakers to remind people how great their subject is. Amazingly, I didn’t feel THE IRON LADY was successful in establishing Thatcher as a larger than life person. Breaking her down and focusing on the older, frail Thatcher would be the equivalent of AMADEUS focusing more than half the film on a dying, sick Mozart. In the end, we spent too much time focusing on Thatcher, the crazy old lady next door than Thatcher, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.