The Iron Lady (2011) Review

     The Iron Lady is clear in its lack of clarity from the start: though firmly sympathetic towards Margaret Thatcher, if not always 100% on her side, the film takes this equivocal position through a comfortable shroud of subjectivity; we see the film through Thatcher’s increasingly dementia-addled eyes. Decades of memories come back to her in such a seemingly-random fashion that the most interesting aspect of The Iron Lady’s 104-minute running time besides, obviously, Meryl Streep’s turn as the title character, is its exploration of the nature of memory. Usually the preserve of surrealist cinema and William Faulkner novels, such structural experiments are a true rarity in mainstream movies.
     This strength, however, is nowhere near enough to mask the film’s other deficiencies. Little more than a showcase for the considerable talents of Streep, The Iron Lady served its purpose and won the actress her third Oscar, her first in the Best Actress category since 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, a nearly thirty-year drought with a whopping eleven nominations in between. A lesser actress in Streep’s position may have been content to rest on her laurels, continuing to take on cushy roles like still-attractive divorcees or TV chefs. Instead, she tive divorcees or TV chefsurels, continuing to take cushy roles like Streep, William Faulkner novels, such structurmade a risky choice at this late stage of her career, portraying one of the most controversial world leaders of the twentieth century.
     While it may have been brave for Streep to take the role, the film itself is not so much brave as it is heavy-handed. Young Thatcher’s first experience at Parliament, in fact, includes one of the more ham-fisted portrayals of presumed gender differences in recent memory. Thatcher recalls her younger self (played by the decidedly wooden Alexandra Roach), looking like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole (not only because of the lost expression on her face, but her blue and white pantsuit and blonde hair as well), wandering through the halls of the hallowed building in search of the restroom. The first door she opens reveals dark suited men standing at urinals; the second door is the correct one, the women’s room. It must be because there is an ironing board. An ironing board. Because women must do housework. Even when they are shaping the laws of the country.
     Of course, Thatcher herself was never one to be anything but straightforward, navigating affairs both foreign and domestic with all the subtlety her nickname implies. While the film succeeds in communicating this aspect of her personality, it fails to give this very driven character any real motivation. Perhaps she wants to be like her father, who split time between being the mayor of their small town and running his grocery store, but so what? We see her mesmerized by a speech of his in one brief scene but director Lloyd fails to make us care. Does she want to be even more successful than him or merely please him? Not enough is given of this father-daughter relationship to give the Thatcher character any believable motivation for her actions. If the results of her tenure as Prime Minister are any indication though, maybe she just really hated poor people.
 In a Nutshell: Structurally interesting but poorly executed, The Iron Lady turns out to be an excellent showcase for the talents of its star, bringing little else to the table. 

Director: Phyllidia Lloyd

Starring: Meryl Streep


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