Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century is the subject of Phyllida Lloyd’s latest feature since the popular box office hit Mamma Mia. Combining her meteoric ascent to the top of public service as the first and only female British Prime Minister with the current day fumblings of a dementia ridden old lady, The Iron Lady is a sympathetic portrayal of a very divisive woman. The premise is fairly simple. Half of the film sees Maggie as an old lady having trouble distinguishing between reality and her memories. These memories fill the other half of the film, beginning with her humble in politics as a young woman (Alexandra Roach).
Meryl Streep plays Thatcher in a performance draped in old age makeup for half of her screen time. While a prosthetic nose may have helped Nicole Kidman garner enough attention to be rewarded with an Oscar, the elderly Thatcher fails to reach the same heights. Of course, Streep is predictably and thankfully marvellous as Thatcher, making the film much more bearable. That being said, it is not Oscar worthy at all. Her performances in One True Thing, Doubt, The Hours and Postcards from the Edge (for example) truly display her consummate abilities which far exceed her more famous performances that come accompanied with mimicry and international accents.
Abi Morgan’s script may have provided an interesting idea; however, the film is too busy drawing love hearts around Streep’s Thatcher like face that it fails to truly grasp the idea by the proverbial balls. Placing both versions of Thatcher distracts and works to the film’s detriment rather than advantage. Focusing more time on one over the other would have been more effecting and interesting. Phyllida Lloyd’s direction seems especially misguided with Jim Broadbent overtly bouncy and annoying Denis Thatcher.
Similar to The Queen, the film aims to provide an insight into one of the most hardened female leaders. The difference however, is that The Queen did not overdose on the sympathy card and kept a reserved distance between public perception and an imagined reality. Sans one breakdown scene, Elizabeth was still generally shown as a steely and hard pressed woman.
While ambitious, The Iron Lady misses the mark and disappoints. Marketing the film with Streep’s face across billboards and posters as the main attraction is a wise decision and solidifies that she is perhaps the only reason to see this film. It is not the worst film this season, but it is certainly not one of the best.
The Iron Lady opens theatrically in Australia on December 26 through Icon Films.