THE IRON LADY Review

Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect first and foremost to be the only audience member under the age of 50. I have always lived by the idea that despite it being a bad idea to receive your history lessons from the movies, it is always more entertaining to see actors play up how they thought historical figures might have really been. To see directors dream up a world that once existed as an authentic piece of cinema. Meryl Streep is no stranger to these waters as before she has channeled popular figures such as Julia Child or Miranda Priestley who was supposedly based on Anna Wintour. At this point, and with it being so consistent over the past few years, it felt Mrs. Streep might be pushing her luck in sticking within the safe realm of portraying real people. In this case, it is true she is a perfect fit for the first and only female prime minister of the United Kingdom and though I doubt anyone could have played this role better, I was still concerned. In the early stills released of the film Streep looked to be playing more of a gimmick than that of inhabiting the woman who changed the landscape of politics forever by simply being a woman. Turns out, this is of course another great performance from Streep (though I still think Viola Davis should have taken the Golden Globe and should still take the Oscar) that makes a movie with unsure footing rise above what could have been a representation of life that the actual Thatcher would have found unsatisfactory. Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect a film that would favor flashbacks over a straight laced bio-pic, but this does offer some variation to the story and allows Streep the chance to make this as personal as possible. Giving the weight of the films story to her star was likely the best move director Phyllida Lloyd could made.

A young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) and Dennis (Harry
Lloyd) decide to get married after Margaret loses her
first election.
That idea of getting an intimate portrait of a great historical figure, getting to know them as a person rather than a persona is the intrigue of films that are much like biographies. I come from a family who, on my mothers side, is very British. I was raised to enjoy tea and real Cadbury chocolate. I have always had an intrigue in the history and the monarchy of the British people but little did I know the lady on the cover of a book that has sat on my Nanny's shelf since before I can remember would be the subject of a movie I'm now writing about. I had no idea who she was, or what she had done. While "The Iron Lady" seeks to spell out Thatcher's accomplishments it also aspires to take a look at the motivation and drive a woman needed to accomplish such things and what all she sacrificed to reach those goals. We begin in a place most unexpected, looking at an elderly Thatcher as she wonders through the streets of England after purchasing milk. In the most touching of ways we watch as she makes her way back home and begins a conversation over breakfast with her husband Dennis (a hilarious Jim Broadbent). The film cuts to a maid who is relieved to find Margaret back home and when we see the Thatcher's sitting at the table again only one still remains. It fades to a title screen and I have to say the mood is perfectly set for the film with that. We watch as we see the events of Thatcher's life unfold from her early years watching her father give speeches during World War II and becoming invigorated by them. Leading her to Oxford and onto marrying Dennis, a man who supports her fully to the House of Commons where Margaret must do more than speak her mind, but defend it because of her gender.

Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) lets her opinion be
known in the House of Commons.
This battle she fought her entire life to be taken seriously as a woman in a position of power is the fight that director Lloyd really draws her focus to. It is clear she wants to see the world as Margaret saw it and with it being set up the way it has it makes the audience not only feel more understanding to the reasons Thatcher felt the way she did, but we see what formed those ideas and codes. It is made clear by the pacing that Thatcher saw each of these obstacles as a different battle in her life. She explicitly tells Dennis after he proposes that she will not be a woman to die "cleaning a tea cup". She was a woman who knew what she wanted and in her mind it was for all the right reasons. She never meant to disregard her children for her success, It wasn't even about success, for her it was about getting to a position where she could make a difference. This drive empowers Thatcher's selective memories that we get to see form a coherent story of how the way she thought would determine the woman she became. By her own theory she proved to be true, her character stood out no matter if you agreed or disagreed with her politics. Though I have no real idea of the political climate at the time (again politics is something that has always been more entertaining in films rather than real life) one thing the movie makes clear is that Thatcher was unafraid to make the hard decisions and speak her mind no matter who it meant alienating. This, all of this, boils down to the elderly woman we see at the beginning of the film. Lost in a world that is part reality part made of her own mind. It is such a sad fact, what time does, and to see Streep relay Thatcher as the influential prime minister and the dementia-riddled Margaret take us on this journey is something no history buff should skip, no matter the quarrels it might have with fact.

An older Dennis (Jim Broadbent) supports his Margaret
as she runs for the office of Prime Minister.
While "The Iron Lady" uses more montages featuring actual footage to bridge the gaps in time than I would have liked and the story itself feels slightly lackluster in its execution you cannot escape the engagement with which Streep embodies the character. Streep's performance is almost too good for the actual film it resides in. The movie is an earnest attempt to portray Thatcher in a light that approaches an honest version of the truth but while it is at times a very interesting drama, much of the spark it sometimes produces is lost in the disjointed structure. I understand what Lloyd was going for and her point is made, but still she should have allowed the thrilling prime minister ripe with diligence to control the screen more often than she does. Seeing Streep access that aspect of the prime ministers life is where the film really shines and the movie becomes more than just a history lesson or a biography but a thrilling story about how one person, a woman no less, made a difference. "The Iron Lady" is very much a tribute to what Thatcher did for women and the barrier's she broke, but it is also a look at life and what is really important when you finally come to the end of the road. This could have certainly been a better all around documentation of Thatcher's life and how the events of it played out but the advantage this version has is Streep. No matter how much we may not have learned about the actions she actually took we got to know Margaret Thatcher as a person and in a biopic if that is the only thing it excels in, well then I guess that counts for something.