The Iron Lady
- Paul Gallagher
- 5 January 2012
Meryl Streep shines in a film that avoids tackling Thatcher's politics
In The Iron Lady director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan (Shame) take arguably the most significant British politician in living memory as their subject, and perversely evade questioning her policies. The result is a film about the cost of power that features a brilliantly convincing lead performance from Meryl Streep, but offers no significant insights on the lady of the title.
The film depicts the formerly fearsome Conservative Prime Minister as a frail old lady bewildered by modern culture, doddering around her flat while carrying on conversations with her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). Episodes from Thatcher’s earlier life unfold from her memory: her rise through the political ranks is played as a fish-out-of-water comedy, with Lloyd drawing gentle humour from Thatcher’s determination. But when tackling the Poll Tax riots and the Falklands War the issues are kept at the distance of newsreel footage – Thatcher’s motivations don’t appear.
Morgan’s script would lend itself well to a one-woman stage show, and is consequently the ideal showcase for Streep’s towering performance. The cast is fit to bursting with cameos from recognisable British actors – Richard E Grant as Michael Heseltine is particularly entertaining. But this is Streep’s show, and while she is very good in the Prime Minister sections, it is as the aged, present-day Thatcher that her performance is most potent. Assisted by terrific work from the make-up and prosthetics departments, Streep movingly enacts a formidable mind deteriorating, and desperately clinging to the last shreds of reason.