If you mentioned the notion of sympathising with Margaret Thatcher to a group of radical students, you would be more likely to win the lottery than gain any positive sort of response. But although The Iron Lady does paint a somewhat (bear with me) respectful portrait of the polarizing former PM, it is more a piece for its star, the legendary Meryl Streep to once again prove her indelible versatility. The rest of the film … well, we’ll see.
The film charts the rocky climb of young Margaret Roberts – from a Conservative grocer’s daughter to her eventual, but inevitable fall from power at the clawed hands of her own party – in a series of flashbacks from a dementia-ridden Thatcher. In her geriatric state she also makes ‘contact’ with her late husband Dennis, played eccentrically but faithfully by Jim Broadbent. With these limited circumstances she does everything from share a twee dance with Dennis to grumble over the price of milk. Although they ease the pace of the film these scenes do tend to drag on slightly, even to the point of viewer discomfiture; and the story of her journey, though more thrilling, seems to embody more of an average recreation commissioned by the BBC than a major award-contending picture. But what distinguishes it is that performance.
‘Marvellous’ Meryl takes all of Thatcher’s persona and physicality and makes it her own, rather than providing another generic, deep-voiced impression of the ‘not-for-turning’ Lady. Indeed she endows a more human factor that is rarely attributed by Thatcher-loathers, concentrating on the person behind the hard image. Sometimes the performance could be seen somewhat melodramatic, but Streep masterfully blends this with rousing substance. She is aided by artful direction from Phyllida Lloyd, which comes somewhat as a surprise from someone whose one other major film credit is Mamma Mia!. Nevertheless, Lloyd and Streep have a chemistry that keeps the drama focused, averting the fear that Maggie might break out into ‘The Winner Takes It All’ at any given second.
In short, The Iron Lady is not a classic. Yet it does serve as a faithful portrait of an inflexible woman; and whether you disagree or not with her divisive principles during her time in politics, you cannot help but admire her courageous spirit. Ultimately it is Streep’s flawless performance that holds the film up to an acceptable standard, which is wholly deserving of that long overdue third Oscar, and then some.