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Published on February 8th, 2012 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Iron Lady Film Review: Margaret Thatcher As You Have Never Seen Her Before

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Director: Phyllida Lloyd.
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Alexander Roach.

The Iron Lady is a soft focus look at the life of Margaret Thatcher. If the director Phyllida Lloyd set out to make Thatcher likeable then she certainly went a long way towards succeeding.

The film is comprised of a series of flashbacks as Margaret Thatcher, now an elderly woman suffering with dementia and played outstandingly by Meryl Streep, looks back on her first foray into politics as a young woman and onto when she was elected the first and, so-far, only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979.

A large chunk of the movie deals with Thatcher as she is today. We see her having conversations with her dead husband Denis whom she seems to believes is alive. We see a fragile and vulnerable side to someone who is regarded as being very far from one of the Britain’s most popular leaders. Devoid of the pomp and authority derived from being a country’s leader her human side comes to the fore.

Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) In The Iron Lady

How true to life this is, is questionable and the film has been criticised by those who know Margaret Thatcher as inaccurate. In fact her former personal assistance, Cynthia Crawford has said that some scenes are totally untrue. Meanwhile her children Carol and Mark are reported to have said it ‘It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.’ 

Ultimately, though the question one has to ask is whether or not the inaccuracies matter? In any dramatisation of a story there has to be some fiction. Dramatisations use a form of poetic license to create a sense of either what a person or a situation is like. It is inevitable that there is a trade-off. Since we can never tell what people are thinking assumption and subjectivity must enter the equation to create anything meaningful.

‘Stubborn, unbending and unyielding are choice words that could be used to describe her character’

Margaret Thatcher was christened the Iron Lady by Captain Yuri Gavrilov in the the Soviet Newspaper The Red Star for her steadfast opposition to Communism. It was a highly apt choice of words by Gavrilov. Stubborn, unbending and unyielding are choice words that could be used to describe her character. She often bulldozed through people and once she set her mind on something it would never be changed, no matter what the consequences.

One particular area that the film disappoints is on Thatcher’s political rise to power. Her determination, controversial policies and her commanding ways in a man’s world are covered but lack depth. We also never truly understand her motives for pursuing a career in politics. Although it is suggested that Margaret Thatcher’s father may have had a lot to play in developing notions of specialness in her and this may be amongst the reasons why she choose that path.

Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) And Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) In The Iron Lady

Her waning popularity in her first years in office, amidst high unemployment and recession, her subsequent recovery due to her political resurrection and the Falkland’s War and her re-election for a third term before her resignation are not delved into leaving the viewer with a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction.

‘Has there ever been such an actress as Streep? ‘

Minor gripes aside, there are some terrific performances none more so than from the mercurially transforming Meryl Streep.

Steep is astonishing in the role, she has captured the look  the speech and the nuances perfectly right down to the pulling in of the bottom lip which Thatcher did regularly. Has there ever been such an actress as Streep? She has the ability to immerse herself in every role and in this part she has surpassed herself.

No doubt we are living in an era where we are witnessing one of the greatest actors constantly producing dazzling performance after dazzling performance.

Absolutely riveting, Streep owns the screen and it is hard to see how she could ever reach such perfection again, but no doubt  she will continue to surprise and delight with more amazing roles in the future.

Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) And Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) In The Iron Lady

Jim Broadbent, as Denis Thatcher, is also wonderful in the role. Lovable and charming, Broadbent provides a wonderful foil to the robust Thatcher especially in her younger days. His character frequently injects mischief and intrigue providing a unique insight into Margaret Thatcher’s mind.

He portrays Denis Thatcher as a relaxed, good humoured, irreverent but solid presence in the life of his ambitious wife. Their scenes together, especially as she grapples with senility, are superb and touching.

The young Thatcher is aptly played by Alexandra Roach. Roach is a relatively new talent to the big screen. She has a strong lively presence with real potential. She certainly held her own against a highly experienced cast.

‘With a twinkle in his eye and warm empathic nature it is easy to see why Thatcher and Neave become good friends.’

Harry Lloyd plays the young Denis Thatcher. Lacking the experience of Jim Broadbent, he doesn’t quite make as strong impression as Roach but is well-suited in the part.

Airey Neave, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is played by Nicholas Farrell who is both competent and understated in the role. With a twinkle in his eye and warm empathic nature it is easy to see why Thatcher and Neave become good friends. It also provides a personal reason as to why Thatcher vehemently hated the IRA.

Apart from the rather gentle look at the life of Thatcher, The Iron Lady is eminently watchable. Viewers should go, if for no other reason than to watch Meryl Streep ply her craft like no one else can.


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