The Iron Lady (2011) Meryl Streep Props Up A Steady Political Hollywood English Biopic | WBRi Movie Review
Kolkata, India, March, 3, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / Penning Creations): Movies dealing with politics as their central themes have always been a subject of interest among classy Hollywood cinegoers. While movies like ‘Milk’ and ‘W.’ wowed critics and general viewers alike, the brilliantly made 2008 flick, ‘Frost/Nixon’ (directed by Ron Howard) won several awards and accolades too. The success of such movies inspired more filmmakers to try their hands in making stylish political biopics, that would find favour among the masses as well. The latest in the line of such films to hit the theatres is ‘The Iron Lady’, which is based on the life and works of former (and the longest serving) prime minister of United Kingdom, the celebrated Margaret Thatcher. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who had earlier directed the frothy ‘Mamma Mia’, returns to the helm with ‘The Iron Lady’. While the director does a praiseworthy job of portraying Thatcher’s career onscreen (with adequate support from her lead actors!), the movie, however, slightly falls short of expectations. Pity really, for one expected nothing but the best from a film that dealt with one of the most popular political figures of the UK.
The movie starts off with an old ‘Margaret Thatcher’ (Meryl Streep) striding out of her home to get some milk from a nearby store. Age has taken its toll on the veteran politician and she is no longer even recognizable by the public, who pass her by as she makes her way back to her home. Thatcher is also shown to be suffering from acute dementia, which often renders her incapable of sorting out the present from the past. She often spends hours thinking about her late husband, ‘Denis’ (Jim Broadbent), who had been always slightly distant and aloof while Thatcher was rapidly rising the ladders of political fame in her prime. The pangs of loneliness from which Thatcher now suffers are accentuated by the fact that ‘Mark’, her son, does not bother to maintain regular contact with her. Thatcher’s relations with her daughter, ‘Carol’ (Olivia Colman) are also far from being friendly. Being spurned by those closest to her comes as a shock to ‘Margaret Thatcher’, particularly since she had always been used to public adulation and admiration during her political heyday.
Trailer: The Iron Lady (2011)
The ‘Iron Lady’ moves into flashback mode now, as we meet a young and ambitious ‘Margaret Thatcher’ (Alexandra Roach), who lives in Grantham and works at her father’s grocery outlet. The fire of becoming a successful politician had, however, been present in Thatcher from a tender age and she makes it a point to listen to inspiring political speeches on a regular basis. The young lady constantly strives to make a breakthrough in what was then a male-dominated world of British politics. Thatcher gets married to noted businessman ‘Denis’ and manages, after a lengthy struggle, to win a seat in the House Of Commons. Gradually, Thatcher rises in power, fame and influence in Edward Heath’s (John Sessions) ministry and also befriends the influential Airey Neave (Nicholas Farrell). Soon after, Thatcher gets the chance to contest for the position of the leader of the Conservative Party, a designation that she had always coveted.
With the passage of time, ‘Thatcher’ rises to become the Prime Minister of the country and she displays her considerable political acumen while dealing with the several crisis situations that arose during her reign in the 1980s. However, with the dawn of the new decade, ‘Thatcher’ begins to lose control of affairs and often vents out her frustrations on her colleagues. One such tirade leads to the resignation of her trusted deputy, Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) and Thatcher is also challenged for the position of party leader by the promising ‘Michael Heseltine’ (Richard E. Grant). Finally, ‘Thatcher’ is forced to relinquish her position as Prime Minister and the conflicts during the latter stages of her political career leave a permanently bitter aftertaste in her mind. With advancement of age, ‘Thatcher’ falls prey to dementia and struggles to balance her past life and her present, almost pathetic, condition.
‘The Iron Lady’ heavily depends on Meryl Streep to carry the film on her shoulders. The veteran actress, to her credit, does a quite remarkable job of showcasing the role of a lady who feels alienated in a strange, lonely world and cannot help but reminisce about the better days (years, to be exact!) that she had seen. Streep reaffirms her credentials as one of the finest actresses in the contemporary English film industry by adding just the right mix of angst and helplessness in her character. Her portrayal of ‘Margaret Thatcher’ at an advanced age is surely one of the most poignant performances of Streep’s illustrious movie career.
Alexandra Roach also does a commendable job of performing the role of the young and power-hungry ‘Margaret Thatcher’. The ambitions, tactical finesse and sheer political genius of the erstwhile Prime Minister of the UK are quite brilliantly brought to life by Roach in the film. The way in which Roach shows off the changes in the tone, style and overall political image of Thatcher as she successfully scales one political milestone after another is indeed praiseworthy.
The rest of the cast members of ‘The Iron Lady’ are somewhat pushed to the background by the powerhouse performances of Meryl Streep and Alexandra Roach. Harry Lloyd, as the young ‘Denis Thatcher’ and Olivia Colman, as ‘Margaret’s daughter ‘Carol’ are adequate in their roles. Richard E. Grant, as ‘Michael Heseltine’, is pretty good. Reginald Green, as ‘Ronald Reagan’, somewhat surprisingly, fails to make a mark. The other politicians have brief roles in the film, with Nicholas Farrell coming up with a decent performance as ‘Airey Neave’ among them.
The trick of making an entertaining yet classy biopic is to maintain a steady pace of narrative throughout the movie. ‘The Iron Lady’, however, is somewhat off the mark in this regard, with the first half of the movie, in particular, being too slow. Much like ‘Thatcher’s own political career, the screenplay of the movie does gather momentum over time, but never quite achieves the consistency that could have made the film really interesting. The parting shot of the movie, showing an old Margaret Thatcher washing her own teacup, is quite brilliantly conceived and shot though. The film, with 105 minutes of running time, seems to be too lengthy (bordering on the boring!) at certain points and Justine Wright, the editor, could certainly have done a better job.
‘The Iron Lady’ is a visually delightful film, though. Cinematographer Elliot Davis is successful in capturing the essence and the ambience of the political scenario of the 80s and the 90s and the sets look totally authentic too. Art direction, by Bill Crutcher, is top-notch. The dialogs of the movie are rather contrived and only Streep manages to bring total conviction to her lines. Musical score, by Thomas Newman, is another high point of the movie.
‘The Iron Lady’, taken as a whole, reflects a sincere effort on the part of director Phyllida Lloyd of showcasing the political journey of ‘Margaret Thatcher’ on the big screen. Meryl Streep and Alexandra Roach, who share the role of ‘Thatcher’ at different stages of her life, deliver fantastic performances too. However, the film is held back from becoming a truly memorable political biopic by its painfully slow screenplay, slack editing and ordinary performances from the rest of the cast. The film has its fair share of bright points but the overall boring nature of the film tends to overshadow all such moments.
‘The Iron Lady’ is a pretty accurate depiction of ‘Margaret Thatcher’s progress through her personal and professional lives (apart from being a grand platform for Meryl Streep for displaying her considerable histrionic skills!). Just do not walk in expecting to see a really entertaining biopic!