Faith & Film: The Iron Lady

The first scene in “The Iron Lady” shows an old woman at a corner grocery store buying some milk. It takes a moment to realize that this nondescript elderly woman is the once powerful Margaret Thatcher. No one notices her. Even more remarkable is that Thatcher is played by the great Meryl Streep. As she has done in every one of her recent performances, she so embodies the older Thatcher that she is practically unrecognizable. I remember how tall she looked playing Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Here Streep looks small and frail. Of course, costume, makeup, and photography play a great part in Streep’s transformation. But much of the credit belongs to Streep’s ability to embody each role she plays so differently.

Streep’s performance in “Iron Lady” is even more remarkable in that we see her not only as an old woman, but as a young member of Parliament, and as Britain’s first female prime minister. As prime minister she is strong, convinced of her conservative policies, and forceful, defying those who claimed a woman could not lead a nation. We see her through the up’s and down’s of her career, defying protesters, being booed by crowds, strategizing with military leaders over the war with Argentina for the Falkland Islands, dancing with her friend Ronald Reagan in Washington. The scenes are well done. Streep gets it all right: Thatcher’s mannerisms and accent. She has a way of doing this without seeming like an impersonator, but as totally becoming the character. Could this be the film to win Streep her first Oscar in 25 years?

Unfortunately, the movie is not nearly as good as Streep’s performance. The main problem with the film is the unfortunate choice of director Phylllida Lloyd and writer Albi Morgan to spend an inordinate amount of time with Thatcher in her old age. She is seen as an old woman, carrying on conversations with her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent.) It doesn’t take long to realize that Jim is dead. The point seems to be that Margaret is slipping into dementia, as she carries on conversations with the silly-acting Jim. The point could have been made in much less time. After a while, the scenes become redundant and annoying. The scenes of Thatcher in her prime are all done in flashback. Especially for those of us not up on British history and politics in the 1980s, a more straightforward approach would have been preferable.

“The Iron Lady” is definitely worth seeing to marvel at another great Meryl Streep performance. I just wish the movie was as good as its star.

Tom Condon, OP