Movie Review: Iron Lady

I’ll really go see anything with Merryl Streep in it these days. She’s her own indomitable iron lady on the silver screen, taking on characters and roles that, once she touches them, I couldn’t imagine anyone else even trying. Her latest film, Iron Lady, has her portraying British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

I read mixed reviews of the film and wasn’t sure what I was in for with this 105 minute movie, but I was not disappointed. The film is set in the supposed present, with a Thatcher that totters, is still speaking to her dead husband and who is flashing back on a lifetime of intense politics juxtaposed, unfortunately, with her current life indoors under close supervision of family, caretakers and doctors.

I do take issue with director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan assuming a lot about the former PMs mental health, especially since she’s still alive at 87 years old. It’s publicly known that she suffers from poor memory and ill health, increasingly missing functions to which she’s been invited. Assuming that she hallucinates, though, the darling presence of her dead husband, played by Jim Broadbent, is a bit much, although it serves as a useful plot device for the flashbacks.

No fan of those politics, I am still in awe of any woman who can enter and succeed in a hostile profession dominated by men. It was fascinating to see how Thatcher’s philosophy informed her actions in such a true, consistent and steadfast way. While ultimately her downfall, the woman stuck to her guns.

But let’s talk about the real show-stopper: the make-up and prosthetics. After all, Merryl Streep is not an 87 year old woman.  J. Roy Helland did Streep’s hair and make-up; Mark Coulier was the prosthetics designer.  Both, rightly so, are up for Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Makeup. Also, to watch Streep sit, walk and move like a much older woman was fascinating and only once, in the final scene, did I think she slipped a tiny bit by swinging her right arm a bit too easily.

The movie itself moved quickly, spanning 6+ decades. The flashbacks didn’t feel like intrusions and were well integrated into the film. We get a few scenes of Thatcher’s childhood, her entrée into politics, her courtship with husband Denis Thatcher. We also see her rise to power through the ranks of the Conservative party, govern through bombs and riots, wage a war in the Falkland Islands and, ultimately, become too rigid for her own party and people and then her resignation as PM.

I do wish the movie would have included more of her early years in politics, although I wouldn’t have chosen those scenes at the expense of others. Also, despite her father being the foundation of her political and philosophical worldview, we lose touch with him shortly after Thatcher goes off to college. I’m not unquestionably enamored with Streep either, despite this review. In one scene, her eyes reveal the real Streep and not Thatcher. These eye movements were also highly reminiscent of Streep’s character in Bridges of Madison County. This, however, is testament to the level of skill that Streep brings to acting: she is so excellent at her craft that only a few tiny seconds of eye movement distracted me from the character she was playing for an entire 105 minutes.

While other reviewers are giving Iron Lady a 6.2 on the IMDb and a 60% viewer approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I seem a bit more excitable, giving Iron Lady a 4 out of 5 stars on this scale:

1 – Just awful

2 – Sort of not good

3 – Neutral

4 – Many good qualities

5 – Stellar

Tellingly, Iron Lady isn’t up for any major awards, but Merryl Streep is up for the Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role and an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.  I’m betting on her for both.