The Iron Lady

4 Jan

Title: The Iron Lady
Year: 2011
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violent images and brief nudity
Runtime: 105 min
IMDb Rating: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Metacritic: 52

 

Yesterday I got to watch Albert Nobbs, an okay film (I gave it a B) with a terrific performance by Glenn Close that was once considered to be the biggest threat to Meryl Streep’s third Oscar which she could potentially get for her work in The Iron Lady. Nowadays, Ms. Close’s performance seems to be worthy of just a nomination, while Ms. Streep seems to be going head-to-head with Viola Davis’ work on The Help for the actual award. Well, I just saw The Iron Lady, and it’s kind of a similar situation to Albert Nobbs actually, insofar as that it’s actually not a great film, just merely a good one, but that it counts with a supreme performance by Meryl Streep, the greatest who has ever lived in my opinion, though in this case the performance by her runs circles around the one given by Glenn Close in the film I watched yesterday.

This really is a masterclass in acting from Meryl Streep, a monster performance that’s just so, so good in so many levels, an actress that has the ability to just really get into her characters, to empathize with every person she’s ever played and that, in this film, no matter what your political stance may be, really succeeds in making Margaret Thatcher a real life person and not a caricature. Because, yes, this is a film about Margaret Thatcher, an incredibly polarizing figure, one of the most influential women of the last couple of centuries arguably, the first and only female British Prime Minister. And of course it’s tricky ground to cover considering the reputation the woman has, and the film does indeed follow step-by-step a series of historical events in the life of Thatcher, but there’s no real depth to them as a historical biopic, it’s always about the performance being brought forth by Ms. Streep which is simply awe-inspiring.

Because that’s kind of what this whole film is, a great showcase for the talents of Meryl Streep, a claim for her third, much deserved and over-due Oscar, and that’s only satisfying because you get to see her at work, her British accent, her chameleon-like performance as an iconic figure whom she mimics just so masterfully. This is the Meryl Streep show, people, and that we’re invited along for the ride is reward enough. Because other than her performance the film doesn’t have all that much going for it; it’s actually pretty shallow, but it’s her performance as a woman in male-dominated world that makes The Iron Lady more than worth watching, a woman who just wouldn’t be told what to do. It’s just astonishing to watch her at work, the greatest ever, delivering a portrayal that, alongside a screenplay by Abi Morgan (who also co-wrote Shame, my favorite film of the year) gives a rather sympathetic portrayal of a woman most are quick to revile.

The director is another woman, Phyllida Lloyd, who directed Ms. Streep in 2008’s Mamma Mia! which my girlfriend loves and has become a (not-so) guilty pleasure of mine. And this trio of women, Ms. Streep, Ms. Lloyd and Ms. Morgan, clearly like the feminism on display by Thatcher, even if they probably don’t like her actual politics all that much, which goes to explain why they remain quietly neutral on that topic and instead try to approach her as a human being and sympathize with her instead of seeing her as this untouchable figure, much like Helen Mirren did in The Queen five years ago (a portrayal which won her an Oscar), doing her best to show us the person behind the political facade.

A good way to achieve said humanization is to open the film with Thatcher as an old woman, being worn down by old age as well as illness, an approaching dementia, and not even being recognized at a local store, a speck of the greatly powerful woman she once was. From there the film starts going back and forth, form her as an old, deteriorating woman (helped by some great old-age make-up), to her younger years (she’s played by Alexandra Roach as a youth), graduating from Oxford, then marrying Denis Thatcher (played by Harry Lloyd as a youth and then by the great Jim Broadbent), becoming the leader of the Conservative Party and eventually becoming Prime Minister. It’s great how the film shies away from the political aspect of it, how it shows Meryl Streep, rocking the make-up and becoming Thatcher, clinging on to her old-self, having some heartbreaking and seriously well-acted fantasy sequences with Denis even though he’s dead, the mild-mannered man who stood besides the iron lady and got her to have a little bit of fun.

In the end, whether you feel the film needed to be more poltically-minded, to be more of a history lesson, you’re still left with an undeniable performance by Meryl Streep. How she impersonates Thatcher is unbelievable, from the mannerisms to the voice and how she alters it all to fit her at different times of her life is amazing, watching the greatest ever finding the inner workings of her character by going at her from the outside in. I honestly don’t care what people may think about Thatcher, all I know is that people would be dumb if they let that take away from the masterful acting on display by Ms. Streep. You get the sense that the direction by Ms. Lloyd could be tighter, and this film isn’t great; but just that performance, what a performance, it’s a thing of beauty to behold, and that golden man better have Meryl Streep’s named already engraved on it.

Grade: B+

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