The Iron Lady

“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.



26 thoughts on “The Iron Lady

  1. I have no really urge or feeling towards seeing this film. Sure Meryl Streep is meant to be astounding in it, I don’t doubt it. But getting bored of films that are based around one amazing performance rather than a fantastic film experience overall.

    I’ve heard a lot of friends and family say that the film sensationalises her life. Which I can see them having to do. Also heard that a few people over the pond thought Thatcher was dead!

    What I was interested about was that Margaret Thatcher and her people allowed the producers to make a biopic in the first place. There’s been a bit of backlash about it over here, people quibbling over facts. As there usually are with any biopic I guess.

    • “But getting bored of films that are based around one amazing performance rather than a fantastic film experience overall”

      Then this is NOT the film for you, J. 😉

      And yeah, watching this I was like, “I didn’t know she had died…” simply because I couldn’t imagine making this kind of pic while the person could still see it LOL

  2. Really hadn’t thought about seeing this movie, though I love Meryl Streep. But I decided to read the review anyway….I found it very interesting. I like that you do the research for us. Thanks for that Fogs! 🙂

  3. Fogs, good to see review is accurate while not trivializing the strength of Thatcher’s historical importance. Perhaps Octavia Spencer [the Help] will still get an Oscar nod despite the incomparable Streep here. I agree with Jaina; I would like to see a departure from character studies and see better overall movies.

  4. I will definitely rent this one. I am anxious to see Thatcher played by an actress who strongly dislikes everything she stood for. I do find it strange that “the film never really takes a stand about her political career.” How does one make a movie about someone like Thatcher and not take a stance one way or the other. That is probably why the movie isn’t all the recommendable. I expect that from a good documentary, but I think that movie are completely justified in pushing an agenda if it make the story more entertaining.

    • They do give her props for her accomplishment (being the first female PM)

      But then on one hand, they show the difficulties that she had in such a way that made it look like she did a lousy job, then show the boom time she experienced as if she was great, then showed her fall from grace as if she was awful.

      So I was left confused… It’s one thing not to know what the COUNTRY thinks of her (Like a President here, I’m sure that opinions vary based on party lines), but not to know how the MOVIE feels about her was near unforgivable.

  5. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking when I saw the trailer. And, above all, when I heard no buzz around it! It’s about to be released in Italy too – very quickly, I must say. For some reason distributors may have thought that Italy needs a Thatcher’s biopic asap :/
    But the only thing you hear about it’s “Meryl Streep! Meryl Streep! Meryl Streep! Meryl Streep!”. Ok, she’s great. Everytime. But I don’t have feelings towards the film.
    Your review just confirmed averything 🙂

    • That’s the story. When a historical biopic w/a great lead performance is only batting 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, you know there’s a misfire going on.

      If a movie along those lines can’t appeal to critics it has very little shot w/movie goers.

  6. I totally agree with your review, though I couldn’t put it so eloquently. Hope the judges for the Oscar look more at the enhancement of the movie as a result of superb acting, and select Rooney Mara as best actress.

    • Heh. I was laughing when we were talking I was like, “Yup, yup. So what are you, reading me back my review, or what?” 😀

      I hope Mara, too, but I think Viola Davis is the real “threat”. Not that I’d be unhappy if Davis won, mind you, she was excellent.

      I cant actually see Streep winning for this. Nom? Yes. Win? No.

  7. Streep is the only reason I want to watch this at all. Which is to say, I want to watch this very little. Streep being Streep is worth seeing, but given the way that the trailers and reviews indicate the film handles its material, I’ll wait for DVD.

    I get that in Thatcher’s life, there’s a narrative about a woman making a name for herself and commanding respect in a field dominated by men in a time when sexism was practically encouraged. But I don’t think you can mix up a peppy tale of political girl power with a biopic about someone as heinous as Thatcher without either fudging the facts or creating cognitive dissonance in the film’s structure.

    • They went with option B: “creating cognitive dissonance in the film’s structure.”


      They did pay a good deal of credit to her breaking into the boy’s club, but when it came to taking a stance on her politics, yeah man, you hit it right on the head.

  8. Streep makes this film so much better but in all honesty, it’s a big disappointment considering how much better this flick could have been. Good review Fogs.

  9. It seemed inevitable that Meryl Streep would play Thatcher at some point, in the same way that it was inevitable that Morgan Freeman would play Mandela. The problem with biopics is when they basically try to cover their subjects entire lives, or entire careers. Was that the case here?

    • Uhhhhh…. yeah…. not entirely, Ian, but yeah. They give just enough of her at High School age and just out of college in order to establish the ever present biopic trope “The Character Defining Phase” lol.

      The majority of the biopic portion is spent on her political career and the events therein though.

      The main thing with the movie is it spends a considerable amount of time in its “present day” conceit, where they show Thatcher “losing it” to senility.

      Not really recommendable, buddy.

      • Yeah, sounds like it then. What I’ve found is the biopics that actually work are the ones which take a specific moment in these people’s lives. For example, taking the Rugby World Cup for Mandela, Princess Di’s death for The Queen, and so on. When they try to cover too much, they are dry and boring.

  10. These movies that revolve only around one great performance are always bland to me. Kind of like J. Edgar which basically sucked except for Leonardo DiCaprio pulling out all the stops. Film is a lot more than a central performance.

    • I even think DiCaprio wasn’t that great.

      When I look at his work in “The Departed” or “Shutter Island”, he barely carries a fraction of that calibre in J Edgar. Plus half the time, he’s buried in that crappy old age makeup… ugh. Dont get me started on J Edgar, Cap!!! LOL

      And I can agree with you for the most part, but there are exception movies… the first one that springs to mind is “Crazy Heart”. Just off the top of my head.

  11. Like Castor, so many of these biopics that rely solely on the performance of one person tend to bore me. One reason why The King’s Speech worked for me was the additional cast of Helena Bonham-Carter and Geoffrey Rush!

    Everyone else seems to be trying to jump on the biopic bandwagon. It may yield award nominated performances, but not award nominated films! Great review, but I won’t be rushing to see this one. Congrats to Meryl Streep though.

    • We’ll see. She’s worthy… that doesn’t mean the Academy will pick her. They probably will though, her performance is some serious Oscar bait. Historical Biopic where she gets to play several ages and wear age makeup, PLUS throw in a dash of mental illness? I dont see how the Academy can resist.

      Its like expecting Scooby Doo not to freak out over a Scooby Snack.

  12. Good review. I admit that I don’t pay as much attention to camera angles, but I actually thought the directing was pretty good here. I like that Lloyd used the looking back strategy, and I thought that setting the whole film in her older years payed off well in the final scenes with the husband. (although maybe that gets credited to the screenwriter instead of the director?)

    • I always consider it shared, because I credit or blame the director for everything that gets onscreen unfair or not.

      They’re the artist that signs the painting, so…

      Plus, we’ve all heard stories of Directors that tear scripts up with rewrites…

      Glad you got to see it though… need to check off all those nominated films!! I know thats why I went!! 😀

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