The Iron Lady
What do you do when you’re making a movie about a political figure whose politics you don’t agree with? Avoid the subject, cast Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and give her an immense set of dentures. The formula worked. Streep and her dentures just took home a Golden Globe.
The teeth are right. But the rest of the film is all wrong.
The Iron Lady shows a feeble Thatcher pottering around her house. She’s still got some of her feisty nature — she buys milk! By herself! — but she slips in and out of lucidity. She’s content to spend her days conversing with dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent: Arthur Christmas) and looking at photos of her past accomplishments.
Each picture triggers a flashback: Her days as a young woman yearning for an education. Meeting Denis. Becoming a conservative political candidate. Having twins and romping with them on a beach. Abandoning the same twins to take a seat in Parliament. Dealing with bombings from the IRA. Overcoming stuffy old men who don’t want her in charge.
Thank goodness she has men around to keep her calm!
That, in a nutshell is the problem with this disjointed film: No matter how you view Thatcher’s hard-line conservativism, she was an ambitious politician who fought her way to the top of British government in a time when women were a rarity on the Parliament floor.
Yet director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) decided that poor silly Maggie couldn’t have gotten anywhere without a man’s guidance. A man tells her to run for prime minister, her husband dictates her bedtime, more men advise her on voice and style. Lloyd and Streep seem to believe that Thatcher’s decisions depended on what the nearest XY chromosome had to say.
When Thatcher makes important decisions like going to war over the Falkland Islands, it’s a petulant choice because she wants to be tough like the boys around her. She knows what it’s like to do battle, because she’s a woman in a man’s job. That sort of girlish simplification might be all right on Gossip Girl, but coming from a character over the age of 18 and in charge of the British army, it sounds mind-bendingly ridiculous.
We also hear a lot about her struggle to the top. But the way Lloyd and Streep play it, Thatcher’s ascent to 10 Downing Street is a montage of blue suits, pearls and grimaces.
Her policies and politics are moot, however, since the film dances past them by flashing between the dementia-addled present and the undefined past. Lloyd’s style is enough to give you dementia: She throws you into a memory, and just as you start to understand what’s happening she cuts back to the older Thatcher, sighing dramatically.
The movie switches from uninteresting to insulting in its curious portrayal of Thatcher’s dementia. Lloyd turns this mental crumbling into a sort of comedy into which Denis pops up wearing funny costumes, cracking jokes and pouring Thatcher drinks.
Broadbent is wasted in the role of clown. Streep achieves a passing resemblance and a decent British accent. You might as well be watching a film about an old lady and her imaginary friend.