MFR Rating: ★ ★
I don’t think anyone really believes a decent biopic is enough to change people’s views on Margaret Thatcher, at least if you’re British. What it can at least do is offer a different perspective and try and challenge emotions. The Iron Lady offers a new view, but offers it far too limply to provide anything containing much significance.
It tells its story of Thatcher (Meryl Streep) through the elderly Margaret with dementia, experiencing hallucinations of her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent) while her mind wonders back to more powerful, albeit challenging times. The film begins with Thatcher popping out to buy a pint of milk, a nice bit of dramatic irony. We learn she was not supposed to be out on her own, showing her loss of control and fragility.
I’ve heard The Iron Lady described as “about as politically incisive as you’d expect from the director of Mama Mia” a review I really can’t disagree with too much. The politics is utterly breezed over and because of that you never get a sense of just why she was as popular and hated as she was, and indeed still is. The main insight the film offers is that she entered a world full of men, causing her to have to be tougher than any of them. This is such a tired perspective and it really doesn’t provide much depth besides that simple idea. And I couldn’t help but feel frustrated by how the director overplays this idea, for example in none of the shots of the House of Commons do we see a single woman on the backbenches. While women were under-represented, this just encapsulated the film’s lack of subtlety and nuance in making its message.
The Iron Lady attempts the standard biopic convention of making it all about the character, but ignores the importance and significance of the context, events and reactions that shaped Thatcher’s character. It also tries to not just be a film about Margaret Thatcher, but a film about dementia, loneliness and getting old. It’s doing two things at once and the threads don’t tie together as elegantly as the film wishes. If it’s a film about a woman with dementia then grounding it within Margaret Thatcher doesn’t seem necessary. If it’s a film about Thatcher then the dementia doesn’t add anything to explain why she was who she was.
OK, the performances are good and Streep gives an impressively diverse portrayal of Thatcher through the ages with an uncanny resemblance and vocal likeness. I just don’t feel she’s allowed to go into as much depth as the role deserves due to a poor structure. The screenplay is perfectly decent but it isn’t held together by the flashback narrative which feels entirely forced.
It’s a sympathetic portrayal of Thatcher without doubt but even so a Tory friend of mine has described it as “the worst film I’ve seen since Star Wars Episode I”. Although this is a bit harsh and other comparisons are available, The Iron Lady‘s force just isn’t doesn’t feel as strong as it should be.
The Iron Lady is out now in the UK. Running Time 105 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.
Review by David Rank