The Iron Lady Review
February 6, 2012
There has been a lot of hype about Meryl Streep's performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but does her performance of the former British Prime Minister live up to her stern reputation?
I saw the teaser trailer for The Iron Lady some time ago, accompanied by stills of Meryl Streep in full Thatcher get-up. I was both horrified and fascinated. Although I was born when Margaret “Milk Snatcher” Thatcher was still Prime Minister, it was during the later years of her leadership so I don’t remember a world ran by Thatcher (weather that is good or bad is debatable). Whilst my history classes delved into British politics, my A Levels only covered until the Second World War so I’m somewhat oblivious to what it was like living in Britain in the grasp of Thatcherism. I have often gone with popular culture’s portrayal of our first and only female Prime Minister, particularly the Spitting Image puppet of her and pop songs (Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine, for example: “The kind people have a wonderful dream, Margaret on the guillotine …when will you die?”) to understand what she was like. Ignorant to much of her life, I had a relatively open mind when I sat down to watch The Iron Lady.
The Iron Lady documents the life of Margaret Thatcher (played predominately by Meryl Streep; and by Welsh actress Alexandra Roach in her formative years); the first and only female Prime Minister of the UK. One of the 20th century’s most famous and influential women, the movie shows Thatcher’s life through the years by way of flashbacks, from her humble upbringing as a grocer’s daughter, to meeting husband Denis (played by the dashing Harry Lloyd when younger, and the amazing Jim Broadbent later), to her life as Prime Minister and beyond. We see how she came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class, to be heard, and succeed, in a male dominated world.
The Iron Lady has faced stern criticism, largely because Margaret Thatcher and many of the characters in the biopic are still very much alive. There have also been some criticisms of factual inaccuracy. I found this film is more about a figure overcoming difficulties to succeed, rather than the events that punctuated her leadership. In fact, the film could have been about any successful woman; the main thing that I took from The Iron Lady was that it was a film about dementia, and grief. Her life as a political spearhead is very much by-the-by as Thatcher’s suffering is devastating to watch, especially in her elderly years seeking solace by conversing with the late Denis. The scenes are so heartbreaking that it doesn’t matter that it is Milk Snatcher Thatcher, one cannot help but empathise with her as she struggles in the grasps of grief.
The casting in The Iron Lady is wonderful, so wonderful that it may be the best thing about the film. Meryl Streep is frighteningly convincing playing the 1980s Thatcher associated with some of the worst times in British history. Similarly, Jim Broadbent is, as always, fantastic providing much of the well received comic effect, offsetting the heavy-going tone. Ignoring Streep’s heavily made-up face, she is quite simply stellar.