I recently watched a documentary called Miss Representation, about the media’s blatantly shallow and sexist portrayal of women on Television, in advertising, and in film. It talked for a good amount of time about how women role models in the government are few and far between, and that women should stop seeing the government as a plethora of middle-aged or elderly white men in suits and challenge their positions. Margaret Thatcher definitely gave others a run for their money, and if women are seeking a daring figure with a strong, yet flawed, dream for society then she is definitely the right person to look into. The Iron Lady not so much. One of those hour long documentaries on cable should do better justice.
The Iron Lady is a stroll through biopic dead-ends as it meanders from marginally entertaining, to redundant and groggy in its second and third act. There is certainly enough substance and knowledge of Thatcher’s life to make an interesting and factual film, but the one we are presented with relies too much on a somewhat directionless and quickly paced storyline, a shaky narrative, and a well-developed character turned senile caricature.
Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been watching a barrage of Scorsese films that have focused on stories where characters rise to power, enjoy the top for a good amount of their life, before taking a water-slide down to seclusion, decimation, or minimal self-worth. The film is told with Thatcher, played wonderfully by Meryl Streep, suffering through dementia, flashing back to her humble beginnings and political life before eventually being stuck in the timeless trance she is currently in. Her husband Denis (Broadbent) is there, by her side, throughout his entire life, and still pops up after his death to accompany Thatcher when she is lonely. This provides for a very awkward, sort of fictionalized account of Thatcher’s life. The great thing about Scorsese is that he never strayed from plausibility or drifted into his own personal thoughts about his subject. He was concerned with choosing a character and documenting them on film.
I’m not saying the choice to include Thatcher’s husband as an afterlife figure was a bad idea, but it’s not a very necessary one. The abundance of flashbacks make the film feel rather distracted and drab as well. We see her working at a grocery store at a young age, admiring her father for his political speeches, and accepting a spot at the University of Oxford.
After that, the film seems to gloss over major points in Thatcher’s life that could’ve resulted in immensely intriguing scenarios such as The Falklands War, the true struggle that must’ve plagued Thatcher as being the only woman on the House of Commons, and her motivation and persistency behind all of her accomplishments and choices. For a biopic, it occupies a very cherry-picked timeline on events, none of them explored to their potential.
I mentioned the film felt distracted and drab. This is because the film seems to have spent too much time setting its sights on smaller, more intricate aspects than it did the writing and the exploration of events. The sets are marvelously crafted and Streep’s performance proves that she can take any role and almost become the person she’s trying to be. When she speaks, and she does quite a bit of it, she captures you and leaves you feeling entranced. It only devastates me that in many shots she has to play an empty codger instead of projecting the courage of Thatcher as a whole. As far as my view on Thatcher, I believe she was, as a whole, brave and admirable. Maybe her actions were a bit destructive and the fact that she divided Great Britain was a mistake. But the fact that she was a woman, trying to implement and develop controversial policies that angered the people, put up with marriage at a young age, and nonetheless joined the House of Commons, putting numerous males in their place definitely makes her a commendable and inspiring figure. Not to mention, she did speak one of the greatest quotes about socialism of all time.
The Iron Lady is a disappointment, motivated by Streep’s wonderful portrayal of a controversial figure and with makeup and art direction to laud. A film can’t thrive on those two aspects alone. The storyline is lacking coherency, the writing very unfocused, and the idea of making Thatcher out to be this delusional woman for much of the movie doesn’t seem like the most intelligent idea. The heart is here, but the mind isn’t.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E Grant, and Olivia Colman. Directed by: Phyllida Lord.