England’s greatest female leader played by America’s greatest actress. I suppose that’s the point, as anyone recognizable as a famous British actress would never be able to pass for Margaret Thatcher and get away with it. Here, Meryl Streep does it and she’s likely on her way to another Oscar nomination later this month when they are announced by the Academy. For now, I’d like to mention that the make-up artist on this film deserves just about as much credit, but we’ll get back to that later.
Just now expanding beyond art houses and small run theaters, The Iron Lady is a biopic on the life of Margaret Thatcher, who served as the Prime Minister of the UK for three terms until she stepped down in 1990 after a challenge to her position. The film has a fractured narrative, so we start with old Thatcher as she reflects on her life and the moments that she feels defined her. However, she didn’t write the film, so it’s what someone else thought were the moments that defined her, but the fractured narrative distracts rather than aids the story, as you’re left to guess the time period and relevance to something current.
This twisting narrative ends up hurting the movie as a whole, and while they attempted to go a different direction than most biopics, I think there’s a reason most biopics stick this way. Unconcerned with the actual events that transpired during her lifetime, the film decides instead to focus on the emotional beats of her life. Starting at the back, and going through her struggles with memory loss, the film attempts to recreate the events that led her to the current day, including the passing of her husband Sir Dennis Thatcher and her trouble accepting her loss.
Through this, she goes back to recollect how she got to the present day, touching briefly on her decision to run for head of the conservative party, her election to Prime Minister, and the events that occurred while she was in office, like the Balkan War. The makers attempt to paint her with an air of affection, but since there is little affection for Thatcher as a leader, so the affection comes off as a comical wink rather than a knowing nod.
The premise of most biopics is to tell the story of a beloved figure, or if not beloved, typically tragic. This pic attempts to mix both with some success. While the story is not tragic enough to warrant the latter, and the person not popular enough to fit the former, it becomes a listless film that wallows in the importance of Meryl Streep’s performance. With that said, her performance is worthy of a better film, and while she deserves every nomination she gets, the film itself is getting more praise heaped on it for her performance than its strength as a complete motion picture.
At the end of the day, that’s what it is. A good performance in a sub-par film. The most celebrated actress of our time (or any, really) proves once again why she is so loved, but proves that she can’t turn that goodwill into a good film. A good performance is no replacement for sound structure and a lead character that people can get behind. The conservative values and hard line stance on controversial issues has made Thatcher no more popular today than she was during the 11 years she served as the Prime Minister. Really, the only relevance to current politics that this film portrays is the fact that the de-regulation instituted at the time has led to many of the economic problems the world is still reeling from.
Not quite the biopic that people will expect, it revolves around good performances, but ultimately, it’s disappointing as a whole. It’s tough to make a sympathetic film about a figure that has was unsympathetic upon her exit from office, and with the crumbling of the economy in her wake, she is even more unsympathetic to look back on, and when the narrative tries to make the story sympathetic anyway, it just doesn’t work. Not a perfect film, she’ll get a nomination for her performance, but I have a feeling the film will not be remembered with the fondness of films like Walk the Line or Ray.
The Iron Lady – 7.3/10