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Published: 2011-12-24 - 14:58:12
Movies : Reviews

The Iron Lady Review

By Joe Lozito

Streep Show

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You almost have to feel bad for Meryl Streep. Almost. She's an actress of virtually unparalleled talent - to the point that her dalliances ("Mamma Mia!", "It's Complicated") are frowned upon while her more, shall we say, Oscar-worthy performances are held up to monumental expectations, as if to say, "this better be the best thing I've ever seen". Well, her performance in "The Iron Lady" - a thoughtful, complex biopic of Margaret Thatcher - does not disappoint. It deserves a place in the Streep canon. So much so, it's almost dull to watch because, yeah, of course, she's great.

Covered head-to-toe in old age makeup - playing Ms. Thatcher in her later years - Ms. Streep approaches a deli counter and with a simple, "how much is the milk?" transforms. Daughter of a grocer and mayor, young Margaret Roberts was all but born into the up-from-your-bootstraps way. After earning a degree at Oxford, she quickly challenged the male-dominated British Parliament and became the only set of heels in an ocean of wingtips.

The film doesn't hit you on the head with a feminist message (as it easily could have). But it does contain a series of beautifully executed moments. When she accepts the proposal from her soon-to-be husband Denis she is quick to caution that she won't be "silent in the kitchen" and she will not "die washing a teacup". As Ms. Streep's performance indicates, that's an understatement.

This sensibility is typified in a fantastic sequence when, prepping for an appearance, Thatcher is having a button mended over the left breast of her gown - while she wears it. Surrounded by her male staff, swarming around her, spouting opinions, Thatcher never once blanches at the lack of decorum. Conversely, she seems to be made all the stronger for it.

An astounding amount of information is packed into the lean 105 minute running time thanks to the smart, economical script by Abi Morgan. In a masterful stroke, the film is framed via a series of flashbacks as the elderly Thatcher attempts to clean out the closest of her late, beloved husband, Denis. During the process, she is literally racked by visions of him (played by Jim Broadbent, doing that crazy old man voice he does so well).

As assured as Ms. Streep's Oscar is, enough cannot be said of newcomer Alexandra Roach, who plays Thatcher in her youth. The young actress manages to capture not only the essence of the soon-to-be PM, but Ms. Streep's performance as well.

To the film's credit, Ms. Thatcher is never deified. Quite the opposite, in fact. She inherits a country in economic upheaval. Her hard line stance is wildly unpopular. She stands by as bloody riots fill the streets and hunger strikes claim lives. She holds firm against the Unions and seems determined to ignore the pleas of her advisors. The Falklands War is, perhaps simplistically, seen as reversing Thatcher's ill-favor, and Thatcher's determination to personally write letters to each fallen man's family brings her compassion to the fore.

Director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") masterfully handles the breadth of the film, as well as the time-skipping nature of the material. She errs only with a reliance on unnecessary swelling strings. Still, it seems odd to be choked up as Thatcher is shown becoming the PM that we know from history - in a bravura sequence involving a hair salon and voice lessons. But then, it's hard to know if you're being moved by the film, the performance, or the memory of a vital and divisive PM. Regardless, not many movies this year have provoked that much sentiment.

What did you think?

Movie title The Iron Lady
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary A biopic of the highest order featuring a performance of equal measure. A thoughtful, complex portrait of Britain's divisive PM.
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