The Iron Lady

January 1, 2012

Review by:
Kieran Newton

School:
Fordham University '15

Quote:
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley


Well, apparently somebody decided that Meryl Streep needed another Oscar. Maybe she was remodeling, and noticed a blank space on her shelf, and said to her glorious self, “You know, I could just fill that up with a nice snow globe, but I think an Academy Award would really fill the display out better. I think I’ll go play Margaret Thatcher for a while.” It is very easy to see that, from start to finish, the purpose of The Iron Lady is to secure that award for Ms. Streep. And honestly, it’s probably going to be pretty damn successful doing it.

I’d call the film a career-maker, if it were any other actress. Only it isn’t. I’d also call it showboating, if it were any other actress with this illustrious of a career. Only it’s Meryl. So we forgive it and bask in her amazing glory. It’s hard not to. The Iron Lady is, if you haven’t heard the preposterous amount of hype, the Margaret Thatcher biopic featuring the delightful Ms. Streep as Thatcher herself. The funny thing is, it might have just been me, but I didn’t really care throughout the film who exactly the character was, because emotionally, it didn’t matter. I mean, it was a very useful setup, to be sure—because the character of Thatcher is already established in the educated public’s mind, director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan were able to focus more on her personal life, using her professional persona more to provide framing and narrative pacing, rather than using the events as the focus of the story.

The film is told in a frame narrative, with the aged, constantly looked-after Thatcher struggling to rid herself of her delusions of her long-dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who plagues her daily life with his presence in her mind. It’s a fascinating look after this incredibly strong figure who, at the end of her days, is beginning to look back over the course of her life and finally begin to question whether all the choices were the right ones, or whether they were simply the ones she had told herself were right at the time.

It’s not a happy story, but I think that it’s a fitting one. Being one of the first influential female politicians in an entirely male-dominated culture was not easy for the real Thatcher, and Streep conveys that struggle with veracity and grace. As always in biopic period pieces, I’d also like to give a shout-out to J. Roy Helland, who did Streep‘s hair and makeup, which are flawless. I mean, her performance is already staggering enough, but with the added effect of the steely hair, veiny makeup, and instantaneous changes from youth to extreme age, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t Thatcher herself on-screen. The immersion is nearly universal.

That being said, it is still a film that rides, in its entirety, on its leading lady, and it shows. Alexandra Roach does a good job of playing the extremely younger version of Thatcher, but she’s no Meryl, and when the change between the actresses finally happens, it’s a little awkward, if only because the movie tries to ignore it as much as possible. They could have done a lot more with it, to be honest. There was even a makeover sequence! If they had unveiled Streep at the end of that, and maybe made a little joke about it, it would have been excellent. Or trite. What do I know.

The rest of the filmmaking is pretty bland. The cinematography is efficient in maximizing the effect of Streep‘s performance, and nothing else, a few shots reused without purpose, seemingly for no apparent reason (these are few and far between, however). The score was… wow, the score was so bland I literally can’t remember it after having exited the theater maybe an hour ago. Really, the entire movie kind of blends together, forming a well-crafted, if one-dimensional, frame for Streep to truly shine in.

The thing is, The Iron Lady has only one leg to stand on, and that’s the titular character and the brilliant actress that portrays her. Without that performance, the movie would fall flat, and it’s very apparent. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t like the movie. I did. Very much, actually. But only because of Streep. There were points where I could see brilliant filmmaking peeking through, but then they were gone, in favor of a great Thatcher monologue or quiet moment. It just could have been better, I feel.

Not you, Meryl. You were perfect.

Synopsis:

A look at the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power.

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"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley

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