The Iron Lady
There’s no joy in reporting negatively on any film starring the incomparable Meryl Streep - - especially when she’s won an Oscar for her work in it. Whatever its other deficiencies, this misshapen filmography did provide its leading lady with the legitimate opportunity to provide another outstanding performance. Streep not only provides yet another example of her remarkable gift for delivery; she succeeds in using her body and facial expression to convey a sense of physical decay so convincingly that the audience has a difficult time remembering that they’re seeing a vibrant actor brilliantly masquerading as an elderly woman in perilous decline. It’s a stunningly brilliant portrayal.
That said, sitting through this excoriating look at the life of the former British prime minister takes her descent into Alzheimer’s as it starting point, over-arching theme and climax, in the process reducing the movie’s subject to caricature. Even those skeptical of the woman’s politics and record as pubic servant would agree that she deserves better than this unforgivingly bleak examination of her life.
Working with many of Ms. Thatcher’s public statements, screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame) and director Phyllida Lloyd (Mama Mia) provide a simplistic explanation of Thatcher’s doctrinaire approach to governance (she adored daddy and his rigidly right-wing political philosophy) interspersed with a series of montages which flit through the principal events in her public life. This People magazine-ish approach to the life of a significant person in the history of the 20th century discredits its subject as it exposes its creators to nearly universal rejection of the film on artistic grounds.
Jim Broadbent, the gifted British character actor with over a 120 screen appearances to his credit shoulders the burdensome task of playing Thatcher’s husband Denis as a sort of Marley’s ghost who returns to his wife after 8 years in the ground to chide her with an undisguised glee that’s often quite malicious. Ms. Lloyd has an impressive record of success as one of London’s leading theater directors; that may account for the tendency to stage a number of Broadbent’s hallucinations as if they were designed for a music-hall audience.
A pastiche of news reel footage and simplistic psychobabble, Iron Lady is memorable only for Streep’s performance—but even that doesn’t justify the price of a ticket.
The verdict? A deeply depressing mess.
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