Streep’s ‘Iron Lady’ performance deserves better script



If you don’t already have an opin­ion on Mar­garet Thatch­er’s polit­ics and policies, you prob­ably won’t have one after watch­ing The Iron Lady.

What did Thatch­er ac­com­plish while in of­fice? How did she rise to power to be­come the first and only fe­male Brit­ish prime min­is­ter to date? The Iron Lady does a ter­rible job in high­light­ing her ac­com­plish­ments. Really, I learned more from read­ing Thatch­er’s Wiki­pe­dia page than I did watch­ing the movie.

It’s not that I ex­pec­ted to re­ceive a his­tory les­son in a 100-minute fea­ture film, but the movie really falls short on the en­ter­tain­ment as­pect as well. It’s dis­ap­point­ingly av­er­age; I hoped it to be at least as en­ter­tain­ing as The King’s Speech, last year’s best-pic­ture win­ner at the Academy Awards.

I can’t say I’m all that sur­prised to see that this film was dir­ec­ted by Phyl­l­ida Lloyd, who pre­vi­ously worked with Meryl Streep in the more light­hearted song-and-dance fare, Mamma Mia.

The Iron Lady needed a grit­ti­er dir­ect­or who re­cog­nized that Thatch­er is a con­tro­ver­sial and po­lar­iz­ing polit­ic­al fig­ure. As far as the movie de­pic­ted, I didn’t feel Thatch­er faced any real op­pos­i­tion un­til the end, when she was forced to resign after 11 years as prime min­is­ter.

Ba­sic­ally, everything Streep does in show biz screams “Give me an award!”, and The Iron Lady is no dif­fer­ent. Streep is an im­press­ive Thatch­er, very much look­ing and sound­ing the part. I’m not sure if she de­serves all the ac­col­ades she’s get­ting for this flick, as I couldn’t shake the nag­ging feel­ing that Streep’s per­form­ance is sim­il­ar to her por­tray­al of Ju­lia Child in Ju­lie & Ju­lia. I kept wait­ing for her to head to the kit­chen to teach the audi­ence how to pre­pare “beef bour­guignon.” Any­how, maybe it’s more Streep’s en­tire body of work be­ing re­cog­nized in a year that lacked a lot of strong per­form­ances (male and fe­male).

One big prob­lem with the script (writ­ten by Abi Mor­gan) is that far too much time is spent on the 80-year-old Thatch­er bat­tling de­men­tia and talk­ing to her de­ceased hus­band Denis (Jim Broad­bent). If this were a movie about cop­ing with de­men­tia, it might be more in­ter­est­ing watch­ing a wo­man struggle with pack­ing up her hus­band’s be­long­ings.

These hal­lu­cin­a­tions were in­ter­spersed with flash­backs of a young Mag­gie (played by Al­ex­an­dra Roach) as a driv­en and mo­tiv­ated gro­cer’s daugh­ter, meet­ing a young busi­ness­man named Denis (Harry Lloyd), get­ting elec­ted to Par­lia­ment in 1959 and her as­cen­sion to the top of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment in 1979.

The scenes of Thatch­er in of­fice are curs­ory over­views, al­most too fleet­ing to form an opin­ion on her con­ser­vat­ive polit­ics. There is men­tion of a war (Falk­lands), high un­em­ploy­ment and Thatch­er’s op­pos­i­tion to in­teg­rat­ing in­to the European Uni­on. She comes across as most strong-willed dur­ing her deal­ings with her cab­in­et.

Un­for­tu­nately, what I’m go­ing to re­mem­ber most about The Iron Lady is that the title char­ac­ter spent a lot of time talk­ing to her dead hus­band. That’s not the kind of re­ac­tion someone should have after watch­ing a biop­ic on one of the most im­port­ant wo­men in his­tory. ••

Movie Grade: B-

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