The Iron Lady (2011)

The Iron Lady (2011) – Meryl Streep just won her third Oscar (and first in 29 years, out of 17 nominations) for The Iron Lady. Good for her. A teacher of mine told me that there are actually a lot of younger actors who feel that Meryl Streep is all technique and no heart. I think someone would have to be a fool not to see the heart in most of Streep’s work. Meryl Streep playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is every bit as great as it sounds. The issue is with the movie built around that performance. For starters, the movie has a frame story set in 2008. Thatcher is old and widowed, which doesn’t stop her from having conversations with her late husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent). She is old and confused and her life is very properly managed by her daughter and her handlers. The point is that this once very powerful woman is now meek and senile. I’m not sure why this is a point the movie needed to make. It’s unnecessary and it is the frame story, the movie keeps returning to it. Streep is great and playing a confused octogenarian but why do these scenes form the narrative backbone of the film?

The other problem I have is Alexandra Roach, who plays young Margaret Roberts. She’s a perfectly lovely young woman (though she does somewhat resemble a live action Nick Park stop motion character…) but she just seems like a rather odd fit for the role. Being American I don’t really know much about Thatcher’s early life but she seemed to stress her lines too much and the performance rang untrue to me. Young Dennis Thatcher is played by Harry Lloyd, Viserys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. I totally did not realize this at the time. His courtship of young Maggie is somewhat charming and sweet, but it was hindered by my problems with Roach’s performance.

The movie kicks into gear for me when Streep takes over the role of Thatcher as a Member of Parliament. The British political system is one I find somewhat interesting and Thatcher’s rise to power is a fascinating one. I disagree with much the woman stood for but her determination and drive is admirable (to a point). We see her ascension to head of the Conservative Party and the office of Prime Minister and her handling of IRA terrorism and the Falklan Islands invasion. To me if the whole movie was more firmly in this territory, it would be decidedly in the “win” column for me. Alas, however it isn’t. Somehow seeing one of the most powerful women in British history old and senile is supposed to be a more compelling story than her running of the government. I’ll never really understand why screenwriter Abi Morgan chose to go in this direction. Maybe if a writer like Peter Morgan (The Blair Trilogy: The Deal, The Queen, The Special Relationship, no relation to Abi that I know of) had tackled the subject we’d have a compelling biopic instead of a mediocre movie built around a spectacular performance.

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