“The Iron Lady” stars Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Her performance has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and in my attempt to be a well-educated blogger heading into my first Oscar season blogging, I wanted to check it out.
Heading in, the question nagging at me had been – if Streep’s performance is so good, annnnnd she’s the central character of the movie, she’s the playing person the biopic is focused on – then why isn’t the movie itself getting any buzz?
Now I know.
“The Iron Lady” opens on an aged Thatcher wandering away from her house supervision to purchase milk and a newspaper by herself. She’s quickly shown to be dealing with senility… talking with her late husband, on medication, being looked after. Through a series of flashbacks, we’re shown snippets of her youth, her rise to power in her adulthood, and the highs and lows of her tenure as Prime Minister.
I initially suspected that the movie would be a treatise on how – regardless of our station in life – age takes us all. But the elderly base-point of the story winds up feeling less like a thematic exploration and more like a stylistic choice. The movie plays like a biopic told via flashbacks as opposed to the story of an elderly woman.
Thatcher (obviously) makes for a worthy subject for a biopic. Unfortunately, the film never really takes a stand about her political career. Not being from the UK, I’m not familiar enough with her time in office to know whether or not I should be thinking she was a successful leader or not… and the film doesn’t inform me. It shows so much of both sides of the coin that I was left unable to form an opinion. I pretty much couldn’t tell you right now if she was good or she was terrible. I’m sure people more familiar with her politics will already have an opinion on her, and there will be plenty here for them to rally around regardless what that is. But for those of us who are less well-informed, the film gives so much info in each direction, as a viewer I was never able to form a solid opinion.
The other big flaw I found in the film was actually the directing. I’ve never seen director Phyllida Lloyd’s previous film, “Mama Mia!” so I can’t speak to it. I will say that here, though, I don’t think she did that well for herself. She put a TON of stylistic touches in and I don’t think they helped the movie, I think they were a detraction. There were dutch angles, out of focus shots, slo mo moments, the editing trick where someone is having a monologue, but they insert quick shots of the person NOT talking (like looking out a window or rubbing their forehead in frustration) while keeping the audio of the monologue rolling and then returning to the person actively speaking again… Plus all the constant cutting back and forth between the present and the flashbacks, and you very much have a director who is in the foreground. Which I don’t have a problem with, as long as everything is done well. And I… wasn’t feeling it. It reminded me of an Oliver Stone film, without the “Mad Genius” quality.
Of course, that’s not the reason I bought a ticket. I bought a ticket to see the incomparable Meryl Streep. Not only does she do a spot on Thatcher, she puts on a great, wide-ranging performance that covers a number of emotional states and is believable in a variety of age ranges. Her Thatcher carries herself differently based on her current political position, from a shrill and eager up and comer to scolding, stubborn, and righteous when she’s entrenched in power. Every step of the way, she’s believable and fascinating to watch.
As good as she is though, she’s not good enough to turn this into a highly recommendable film. Her performance and the historical importance of Thatcher make it watchable, but aside from that it’s a bit of a mess.