Like a grocery list, "The Iron Lady" checks off some of the major events during Margaret Thatcher's career, but doesn't explore themor the woman, who was Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990with any substantial depth. Were it not for yet another transformative performance from Meryl Streep (2009's "Julie & Julia
"), this stuffy biopic would implode altogether. Careful not to offend, director Phyllida Lloyd (2008's "Mamma Mia!
") and writer Abi Morgan (2011's "Shame
") have turned Thatcher into a goddess of politics, unions, and women's rights while discarding flaws, setbacks, and her more controversial conservative beliefs (let's just say she was not a supporter of gay rights). It feels especially biased, soft-centered, and unfocused, never finding a concrete story to tell.
Hailing from humble beginnings, Margaret Roberts (played in her young adult years by Alexandra Roach) was the daughter of a family of grocers before getting accepted into Oxford. Unafraid to speak her mind in a roomful of boys, she worked her way into Parliament (the first lady to do so), then became education secretary, and finally, by the age of fifty-three, Prime Minister of Britain. In her courtship with soon-to-be-husband Dennis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd in younger years, Jim Broadbent later), Margaret makes it clear that she is not one of those women who will keep silent and dedicate her time to washing the dishes and preparing meals. That's fine with Dennis; that's why he loves her so much. As the film sees it, theirs is a true lifelong romance. When Dennis finally succumbs to cancer shortly after they both narrowly survive a hotel bombing, Margaret continues to talk to him as if he were there. The alternative is too unbearable for her.
The scenes in "The Iron Lady" of an elderly Margaret Thatcher, going about her days of retirement while trying to keep up appearances and juggle delusions of her late husband, are the film's bestmostly because it is a gentle, poignant portrayal of a person's day-to-day late life, and has little in particular to do with the person so much as the universal experience. Flashbacks to Margaret's younger days and career are on less sure footing, usually feeling randomly chosen and more hodgepodge than cohesive narrative. Walking away from the film, the viewer won't have learned much about Margaret Thatcher they didn't already knowit barely skims the surface of who she was, and isbut the love story between herself and Dennis is a palpable one. Meryl Streep is stunning in the way she consistently vanishes into her characters' skin, and the make-up, for what it's worth, is far better here than in the recent "J. Edgar
." Without Streep, however, there would be nothing special to set "The Iron Lady" apart from a dime-a-dozen TV movie. The material doesn't live up to the actress' uncanny commitment.