It seems likely that The Iron Lady will prove golden for Meryl Streep come Oscar time, as the venerable American actress has delivered a tour de force performance as Maggie Thatcher, Britain’s first (and only) female prime minister.
A right-wing lightning rod for dissent who notoriously savaged Britain’s militant trade unions in the ’70s, narrowly escaped assassination via an IRA bomb, and sacrificed a lot of “blood and treasure” going to war against Argentina over a few specks of dirt known as the Falkland Islands, Thatcher was a conservative true believer who always put principle above political expediency. She renewed Britain’s economy, but at a terrible cost to literally millions of ordinary workers. And to those who think that politics should be pragmatic, Thatcher’s ferocious hewing to her core beliefs seemed heartless and destructive. So, was she just Attila the Hun in pearls and a pantsuit?
In The Iron Lady, about a third of the film takes place in the present day, as a mildly demented Thatcher putters about her house having imaginary conversations with long-dead husband (Jim Broadbent) while being fussed over by a care aid. The film is a complex series of flashbacks that, in non-chronological order, show her as a girl out of step with her classmates, as a young woman with a keen interest in politics, her romance with Denis Thatcher, and her shinny up the greasy pole of political power.
Her 10 years on the world stage are necessarily reduced to a few key events such as the Falklands War and the toppling of the Berlin Wall, but it’s enough to get a sense of the inner person and the forces that drove her. Persons with a keen – or keenly partisan – interest in politics will doubtless argue about the emphasis and interpretation of how she and her record are treated. But as a film, this standard-issue biography seems an even-handed portrait of a compelling woman who is brought fully to life via a superb performance. M
The Iron Lady ★ ★ ★
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
PG-13 – 105 minutes
Continues at The Odeon