The Iron Lady

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Release date: December 30, 2011
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Written by: Abi Morgan
Produced by: Damian Jones
Running time: 105 minutes

"The Iron Lady" tells the story of Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. From her first days in power, Thatcher developed and refined ways of circumventing political protocol and procedure. She served three consecutive terms in office and remains one of the dominant and controversial political figures of 20th century Britain. The story concerns power and the price that Margaret Thatcher paid for power, and is a surprising and intimate portrait of a complex woman.

Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher), Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher), Olivia Colman (Carol Thatcher), Anthony Head (Geoffrey Howe), Richard E. Grant (Michael Heseltine), Roger Allam (Gordon Reece), Iain Glen (Alfred Roberts), Alexandra Roach (Young Margaret Thatcher), Harry Lloyd (Young Denis Thatcher), Susan Brown (June), Julian Wadham (Francis Pym), Nick Dunning (James Prior), Victoria Bewick (Muriel Roberts)

Casting an American to play a public figure as quintessentially British as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was a gamble – even if that actress is Meryl Streep. “The stakes were high,” admits Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the star in 2008’s Mamma Mia! “It’s like an English actress coming to America to play Hillary Clinton. All eyes are on you, and one slip and everyone is going to be going, ‘You come over here and take our jobs…’?” No surprise that Streep rose to the occasion. “It’s not an impersonation in any way – it’s an incarnation,” says Lloyd. The Iron Lady spans seven decades but focuses on the peak of Thatcher’s power in the 1980s. Even moviegoers who don’t warm to Thatcher’s conservatism may find something to cheer. “As much as the film is about the roller coaster of her extraordinary political career,” says Lloyd, “it’s also about family and love and loss and bereavement.” And, of course, one trailblazer’s strict, nonnegotiable policy about wearing pearls.

It was one of those rare, rare films where I was grateful to be an actor and grateful for the privilege of being able to look at a life deeply with empathy. There’s no greater joy. I still don’t agree with a lot of her policies. But I feel she believed in them and that they came from an honest conviction, and that she wasn’t a cosmetic politician just changing make-up to suit the times. She stuck to what she believed in, and that’s a hard thing to do. You want people who are willing to find a solution. I admire the fact that she was a “love-me-or-hate-me” kind of leader who said: “This is what I stand for.” It’s a hard thing to do and no one’s doing that now.

After the first early screenings in the United Kingdom, David Gritten at The Telegraph said: “Awards should be coming Streep’s way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.” The Guardian Xan Brooks said Streep’s performance “is astonishing and all but flawless”. He added: “Yet Streep, it transpires, is the one great weapon of this often silly and suspect picture.” The Daily Mail also praised Streep’s portrayal. Critic Baz Bamigboye wrote: “Only an actress of Streep’s stature could possibly capture Thatcher’s essence and bring it to the screen. The film follows Baroness Thatcher from her early years breaking through class and gender barriers to become prime minister to her political downfall in 1990. The Thatcher era from 1979 to 1990, was a time of social and economic change for Britain. Elected following a period of widespread strikes, dubbed the winter of discontent, Lady Thatcher and her Conservative government embarked on tough reforms to tackle inflation and the trade unions. Her policies divided the country – seeing a boom in the service sector and home ownership but a decline in manufacturing and soaring unemployment.

While the film was met with mixed reviews, Meryl Streep received universal praise for her performance. She was awarded with a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award and her career’s third Academy Award for playing Margaret Thatcher.

When I saw “The Iron Lady” for the first time, I was disappointed. For a biopic about one of the world’s most controversial politicians, Margaret Thatcher’s career, and what she has done in the decades of her work, is surprisingly fast-forwarded throughout the film. It felt like a “best of” and expects certain knowledge about Miss Thatcher’s actions to understand why she is either loved or hated by her citizens. Instead, for more than half of the film we take a fictional look at the present day Thatcher, suffering from dementia and talking to the ghost of her dead husband. While the makeup and acting for the old Miss Thatcher is a class of its own, it’s all fictional and I could understand the critics arguing about whether it’s necessary to exploit these private issues for a film. Plus, I think the editing and musical choice at times just didn’t fit. So after the first viewing, I strongly felt that this film could have been much better and that a wonderful opportunity had been wasted. However, the second time I watched it, my opinion has shifted. If you get past the fact that time is missing for the scenes of her past years, the present day scenes are very moving and the acting is first-class throughout. There’s the magnificent Alexandra Roach as the young Margaret, who unfortunately gets way too little screen time. Jim Broadbent and the wonderful Olivia Colman are both superb in their performances as well. Speaking of performances, the film is a testament that acting awards should be about the role, not the overall film. Meryl’s performance as Margaret Thatcher is brilliant, she proves once again that she’s still able to totally immerse into a character with empathy and incredible talent. “The Iron Lady” deserves the two Academy Awards it has won, for Best Makeup and Best Actress, are a crowning achievement for a film that is good, but could have been better.

★   Academy Award – Best Actress in a Leading Role
★   BAFTA Film Award – Best Actress
★   Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Drama
★   New York Film Critics Circle Award – Best Actress
★   London Critics Circle Film Award as Actress of the Year
★   Australian Academy Of Cinema & Television Arts Award as International Actress
★   Denver Film Critics Society Award – Best Actress
★   Southeastern Film Critics Association Award – Best Actress
★   Richard Attenborough Regional Film Award – Best Actress
★   Dorian Award as Film Performance of the Year
☆   Screen Actors Guild Award as Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor
☆   Women in Film Critics Circle Award – Best Actress
☆   Irish Film and Television Award – Best International Actress
☆   Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts as Best International Actress
☆   Central Ohio Film Critics Award – Best Actress
☆   Chicago Film Critics Award – Best Actress
☆   Detroit Film Critics Society Award – Best Actress
☆   Houston Film Critics Society Award – Best Actress
☆   Iowa Film Critics as Best Actress
☆   Phoenix Film Critics Award – Best Actress
☆   St Louis Film Critics Award – Best Actress
☆   Vancouver Film Critics Award – Best Actress
☆   Washington DC Area Film Critics as Best Actress
☆   Satellite Award – Best Actress