Rating: *** (3 out of 5)
The Iron Lady was one of the most talked about movies this season, not least because Meryl Streep won her third best actress Oscar by channeling former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Making a movie about one of the most controversial, divisive and fascinating political figures in the post-war era is no easy feat. Little known English director Phyllida Lloyd, whose only other credit is musical extravaganza Mamma Mia! in 2008, takes on the challenge but finds herself out of her depth. Lloyd struggles to tell a coherent story without getting lost in the many ups and downs, successes and failings of a woman who began as a grocer’s daughter and went on to serve three consecutive terms as the first and only female prime minister in British history.
|The Iron Lady by Phyllida Lloyd|
Thatcher was, and still is, a deeply polarizing figure in Britain. You either love her or loathe her, although a vast majority fall into the second category. The Soviets might have come up with the nickname “Iron Lady,” but back home she is better known as “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” for her far-right social and fiscal policies. Thatcherism, as it is called, would make the austerity measures in Greece look like a walk in the park. Her ruthless attacks on the labor unions (which led to the miners’ strike in 1984), her indiscriminate privatizations of public services from transport to utilities, and her infamous and hugely unpopular poll tax (which precipitated the Poll Tax Riots in 1990) all contributed to her political downfall. But Lloyd glosses over these and other critical moments of her premiership and stitches together a 102-minute movie that amounts to no more than a collage of flashbacks and raw footage. The biggest flaw of The Iron Lady is that it fails to take a stance or even form an opinion on Thatcher's legacy. In doing so, Lloyd abdicates her duty as a film-maker and leaves the audience feeling shortchanged.
|Some of Thatcher's staunch critics|
The movie instead focuses on two things: Thatcher’s past battles as the lone woman warrior in the male gladiators’ world of British politics, and her current battle again dementia. They are part of Lloyd's deliberate attempt to show the human side of a woman seemingly devoid of feelings and emotions. In that sense perhaps the director does have a stance: the public should be more sympathetic toward a former leader who has given up so much to serve her country and who is about to die a lonely, demented widow. Nevertheless, most people in Britain will find it difficult to have sympathy for someone who had shown none during her 11-year reign.
|Thatcherism all the way|
The Iron Lady is good entertainment and you should watch it, if nothing else, just to experience Meryl Streep's acting prowess. A lot of ink has already been spilled over Streep’s uncanny portrayal of the protagonist. But she is Meryl Streep after all and her presence is so big that it often over-shadows the movie itself. I also find an American actress playing an English icon distracting, just as I did when watching Anthony Hopkins play American President Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's biopic in 1995. The Iron Lady is so much about Streep trying to get the accent and the mannerism right that it, when combined with a flawed screenplay, tips over into mere impersonation and caricature. It goes to show that even a flawless performance delivered by a Hollywood deity can't make up for a director who doesn't do her job.