Arts movie review

Happy New Year, Maggie Thatcher?

The Iron Lady is well done, if not bordering on insensitive

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Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent play Margaret and Denis Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
courtesy of the weinstein company


The Iron Lady

Directed by
Phyllida Lloyd

Meryl Streep,
Jim Broadbent and Richard E. Grant

Rated PG-13

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While many movies focus on the private life behind a public figure, The Iron Lady focuses on the private life of a woman already retired from the spotlight. In keeping with the recent trend of making films about contemporary (British) politicians and royalty, this Margaret Thatcher biopic skillfully weaves fact and a great deal of artistic liberties to create a portrait of the first female prime minister of the UK.

The Iron Lady traces Thatcher’s life from her teens to her later years through a series of flashbacks that the present Baroness Thatcher (Meryl Streep) experiences through a period of three days. The “Iron Lady” presented here, however, is different from the inhuman force that sparked the unrest in song “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” from the musical Billy Elliot. Confusion between past and present form a major part of the film — our protagonist suffers from dementia. As she interacts with her late husband through flashbacks and hallucinations (Jim Broadbent), we catch a glimpse of a more vulnerable, but nonetheless distant, lady.

These vulnerabilities play out through the men in Thatcher’s life. On the most immediate level, the film presents her husband as a hallucination that she both needs and struggles against. Deeper in her past is her father, who is little more than a voice, but still powerful: “Never run with the crowd, Margaret. Go your own way.” Mrs. Thatcher herself is driven by a desire “to do something,” and throughout the course of 105 minutes, we get a taste of the price of power. She lives in her own world, and it is her obliviousness to the effects of her domineering character, perhaps, that is the real tragedy.

Meryl Streep, who won a Golden Globe for her performance last week, has mastered complete Britishness in the persona of Margaret Thatcher. Despite Streep’s impeccable acting, however, I must question the timing of the film’s release. Is this really in good taste? Baroness Thatcher’s own battle with dementia is depicted with grace and realism, but the situation is nonetheless painful, especially given the fact that both she and her children are still very much alive.

In the end, The Iron Lady is neither a celebration nor a condemnation of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office — merely a portrait of a lonely old woman confused in the modern world and embedded in the past. It’s insensitive, but is it also sympathetic? I leave that to you.