The Iron Lady is lucky to have the legendarily talented Meryl Streep to hold things together, because it is so wildly uneven that it constantly threatens to collapse. Writer Abi Morgan and director Phyllida Lloyd’s film about Margaret Thatcher is a drama that merely sticks to the surface, and going against the title, spends a lot of time portraying the protagonist as a vulnerable mess.
Clocking in at a less than brisk 100 minutes, this biography of the United Kingdom’s longest serving Prime Minister feels more like a sugary windowed look rather than a proper character study. Thatcher’s life was a series of ups and downs occasionally interrupted by the usual biopic strands of genius, celebration and depression. The Iron Lady, however, just slogs from one dreary heavily made up Meryl Streep countenance to the next, almost like a boring Thatcher theme park ride. And even the factually accurate incidents that the film chronicles come off as Hollywood branded sugarcoated half-truths.
Thatcher was a hugely controversial and polarizing figure which is how she earned her name. She was instrumental in the war with Argentina at the Falkland Islands, and was also responsible for ending the cold war. She supported the flat tax that required both the rich and the poor to pay the same amount. She even waged wars with unions and suggested cutting down the education budget. But The Iron Lady just skims through everything, cutting repetitively from the past to the present.
Morgan and Lloyd employ a flailing framework for Thatcher’s alternately influential and sordid story and the treatment is just shoddy. The nonlinear presentation of The Iron Lady hurtles you violently from 2008 to the early 80’s and back with no apparent focus. Alexandra Roach plays the young Thatcher who falls in love with Denis (Harry Lloyd) while Streep slips into the older role with Jim Broadbent. Streep won the Oscar for this movie, and five minutes in you’ll know why - her eyes and her body language are astounding. It is impossible not to be wowed by the ease with which she completely transforms herself into her character at various ages. The amazing prosthetic work only adds to the character, and sadly the make-up is more layered than the story.
Ultimately The Iron Lady is more a montage than a biopic. Not once does it delve into Thatcher’s character or the events that created her, and the film only offers material to evoke yawns rather than fascinate. Reducing Thatcher to a prosthetics-clad parody of helplessness is not just unhelpful and monotonous, but also unfair to her legacy.
(First published in MiD Day)