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The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady

Released 6 January 2012
Director Phyllida Lloyd

Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Iain Glen, Susan Brown, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Allam, Michael Pennington
Writer(s) Abi Morgan
Producer(s) Damian Jones
Origin United Kingdom
Running Time 104 minutes
Genre Drama, biography
Rating 12A

The lady vanishes.

There is undoubtedly a great film to be made about Margaret Thatcher but The Iron Lady is not it. That’s not to say it’s a bad piece of work. On the contrary; it is a handsomely made film, with a central performance from Meryl Streep which is nothing short of remarkable. There are things to admire here, but as a political memoir for one of the most controversial and still divisive political figures of the last century, it is ultimately disappointing. Director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia) and screenwriter Abi Morgan have missed an opportunity here by treading far too carefully.

Set in Thatcher’s twilight years, the film alternates between flashbacks to her political career and her current life - rattling around a house with her memories and the spectre of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), with whom she conducts conversations. This relationship and how it was affected by her power is the heart of the film; meaning that while The Iron Lady is not exactly a whitewash, its focus is very narrow and its tone uncritical. There is a heavy emphasis on Thatcher’s strength and tenacity, of her journey from humble beginnings as a shopkeeper’s daughter to leader of a nation. This is of course, crucial to any story that will be told about her, but here it is prioritised to the detriment of the more controversial chapters of her life. The miners’ strikes and the casualties of the Falklands war are only seen through blasts of contemporary news footage; a tactic that only reminds us how one-sided and politically insulated Lloyd’s film is.

Throughout though, Streep is staggeringly good. From the tone of voice to the mannerisms, it is a perfect portrayal and definitely the reason why the film will be remembered. Around her, the rest of the cast are similarly impressive. Jim Broadbent is likable as usual as Denis Thatcher and the scenes between the husband and wife are touching. In the cabinet, Anthony Head is standout as Thatcher’s close ally Geoffrey Howe and Richard E. Grant makes a startlingly convincing Michael Heseltine. It’s only a pity that Olivia Colman’s take on Carol Thatcher is marred by a distracting prosthetic nose.

As we’ll no doubt see when the Oscar nominations roll in, The Iron Lady is only remarkable for Streep’s performance; other than that, it is an unenlightening portrait.

- Linda O’Brien