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The Iron Lady - Review

The Iron Lady

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 1.5 out of 5

HOW much does a great performance mask a bad film? Well, in the case of The Iron Lady not nearly enough.

While many are predicting an awards windfall for Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s film, few are probably anticipating just how pointless and – as a result – toothless the ensuing movie is.

Far from being a conventional biopic that explores Thatcher’s rise to power and her controversial policies, The Iron Lady is much more an imagined look at the life of the former Prime Minister now that she has reached old age and attempts to cope with the onset of dementia.

As such, and by Lloyd’s own admission, it’s a think piece on old age and coping with loneliness as well as a love story of sorts that treats its central character with a great deal of sympathy.

For some, this will be like waving a red flag to a bull. To others, it will feel like a missed opportunity to remind people of her achievements.

Yet no matter which side of the Thatcher debate you sit, or even whether you were alive and directly affected by her years in power, the ensuing film is a pointless exercise in ‘what if’ that has very little basis in reality. Given that it concerns one of the most important – not to mention divisive – figures in British history, it has to go down as a bit of a travesty.

Lloyd’s film opens with Thatcher (played under the weight of heavy prosthetics by Streep) as she ‘escapes’ her home in order to buy a pint of milk and then proceeds to spend time in her company as she copes with her loneliness and early dementia under the suspicious gaze of those closest to her.

During this time, she interacts with the ghost of her former husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), while reflecting on the key moments in her life from getting into Parliament and becoming the first female Prime Minister to the pivotal decision to go to war over with Argentina over the Falklands.

Such moments, however, are mere snapshots in a film that spends most of its time in the present day… albeit an imagined one based upon an insight afforded to screenwriter Abi Morgan by the publication and subsequent serialisation of Carol Thatcher’s book (which alludes to her mother’s dementia).

The flashbacks themselves are also fairly shambolic and directed in a sort of heightened fashion that reflects the notion that they come from Thatcher’s own memories, thereby making them rose-tinted to say the least.

It’s fair to say that Streep’s performance, while sympathetic of its central character, also displays the iron will that helped to define her, as well as the humility and sadness of an old age spent largely alone. Her voice, meanwhile, is often hauntingly reminiscent of Thatcher herself.

But even though the actress has clearly paid a lot of attention to her subject, the fact that much of her performance is based on the combined imaginations of Streep, Morgan and Lloyd negates a lot of its impact.

The film feels particularly soft and lacking in authority… something that could never be said for the woman herself. And that is surely a damning verdict in itself.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: January 6, 2012