out of Five
Running time: 105
The Iron Lady is worth watching for Streep's almost certainly Oscar-bound performance, but the patchy script lacks both dramatic and emotional weight, while viewers of a certain age may resent being made to feel sorry for Margaret Thatcher.
What's it all about?
Directed by Phyllida Llloyd and written by Abi Morgan, The Iron Lady is a (sort-of) biopic of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It opens in present-day London, with an ageing Baroness Maggie (Meryl Streep) battling dementia and conjuring up the delusion that Denis (Jim Broadbent) is still alive and talking to her, which triggers memories of her life and career.
The dementia-enhanced structure of the film allows the flashbacks to come and go at will, so we get snapshots of Margaret as a young woman (now played by Alexandra Roach) during the war, a few scenes of her getting involved in politics and a brief glimpse of her romance with a young Denis (Harry Lloyd) before Streep takes over and she becomes both the leader of the Conservative Party and Britain's first female Prime Minister. Thereafter, the film resembles a sort of remix of Thatcher's Greatest Hits – there's a fair amount on the Falklands, the Poll Tax and her eventual fall, but there's almost nothing on the Miner's Strike, for example, and it says something about the political content of the film that they haven't even bothered to cast anyone as Kinnock. (Was Damian Lewis unavailable?)
Needless to say, Meryl Streep is extraordinary, delivering a note-perfect and almost certainly Oscar-bound performance that's chillingly accurate and may give you unwelcome flashbacks. There's also strong support from Broadbent (essentially reprising his role from Iris, which The Iron Lady closely resembles) and particularly from Olivia Colman (excellent and almost unrecognisable as Carol Thatcher), while Anthony Head and Richard E Grant are amusingly cast but sadly under-used as Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine, respectively.
To put it glibly, the main problem with the film is that there's too much Alzheimer's and not enough politics – none of the potentially fascinating political dramas are explored in any great depth and the patchy script feels both rushed and shallow as a result. It also feels frustratingly one-sided (you get no sense of why she was one of Britain's most hated Prime Ministers), while the present-day dementia scenes occasionally feel uncomfortably manipulative and you can't help wishing the film had taken a leaf out of The Queen's book and focussed on a single episode in her career instead.
The Iron Lady is worth seeing for Streep's typically brilliant performance, but it ultimately fails to satisfy on either an emotional or a dramatic level.