The Iron Lady

Nominated for Best Actress and Best Make-up at the 84th Annual Academy Awards…                         It’s stupefyingly awful. And also an insultingly simple-minded document of a fascinating decade of change from the previous century. Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikers, for instance, are given one brief line yelled from a crowd. No attempt is made to understand Margaret Thatcher’s decision on this or any one of a dozen complex issues she faced throughout her tenure as Prime Minister. Everything is given an 80’s-style video montage that looks like something that used to play on MTV. And things go sour right from the get-go when you realize, quite early on, that the film’s framing device will try to wring emotion from us by focusing on a doddering, elderly Margaret who suffers from short-term memory loss and has lengthy conversations with her dead husband(played by Jim Broadbent). Half the film is spent in this mode—with flashbacks to “key” moments in Ms. Thatcher’s life.          I’m increasingly suspect of those who tell me what a “great performance” Meryl Streep gave—in this, and so many of her other projects. I doubt a majority of them have ever acted a day in their lives. Impersonation is not the definitive barometer of a first-rate performer. It’s just mimicry. Sometimes extremely skillful mimicry…just as Ms. Streep did in her Julia Child impersonation from “Julie & Julia”. You’ll hear things like, “she BECAME Margaret Thatcher” about her portrayal here. Really? Streep certainly did a fine job of representing our IDEA of how Margaret Thatcher would be. But how she IS? I imagine only those closest to Thatcher can answer that. But a little make-up, the right wig, a fake overbite, plus Meryl, is all it takes to convince the rest of us. Listen, I believe Streep is one of our finest actresses. I’ve adored many of her impeccable creations. Recent favorites include her work in “Doubt” and also “Adaptation”. Even her thinly-veiled Anna Wintour-spin as Miranda Priestly in the otherwise forgettable “The Devil Wears Prada”. But this one leaves me cold. I imagine a less wayward script would have served the characterization much better. And frankly, all of that dead husband chattering with the usually welcome Mr. Broadbent is excruciating.          I was quite fond of Alexandra Roach as the young Margaret. You’ll wish more time was spent with her. Although, as soon as she says something about washing a teacup, you know the finale will involve the washing of same. It is a screenplay of exclamations and platitudes and very little introspection. And I LOL’d at the irony of the actor playing the youthful Denis Thatcher being named Harry Lloyd. He SEEMS to be channeling silent film stars Charlie Chaplin AND Harold Lloyd for his characterization. His actual bio says he is a descendant of Charles Dickens! Hey, if the late Mr. Thatcher was anything like this…more power to Harry.         Chances are, if you are of a certain age, that you will walk away from this movie not knowing all that much more about Margaret Thatcher than when the film began rolling. Its “just play the hits” approach to this biography does not serve the woman well. If this were a book, every chapter heading would read, “Margaret Stands Her Ground”. Good luck with any understanding of either why or, for that matter, any attention to the opposing view. And if you want an examination of the Brixton riots of 1981, or the Falklands conflict of 1982 or the miner’s strike of 1984—I suggest you find a good book. “The Iron Lady” is not concerned with such things. What you end up getting are chatty ghosts and rinsed-out teacups. What a crock.      Grade:   D


2 comments on “The Iron Lady

  1. Hollywood can do some things well, but it seems that biography is not one of them. I hated “Ray” and didn’t bother to see J. Edgar. Once in a while they get it right, but I can’t think of any recent biopics off the top of my head. Even the recent HBO series on John Adams was mostly well-done. The director crammed in some modern, and jarring, camera work that did not fit well in a period piece, mostly because it was done inconsistently. Some of the editing and odd camera angles distracted from the excellent acting being done by Giamatti and Linney.

    • I didn’t hate “Ray”, but I understand where you are coming from. Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” is a wonderful example of a biography that worked smashingly because it didn’t conform to the standard biography template. ML

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