The Iron Lady | Film review
Meryl Streep does her best Margaret Thatcher imitation in this offensively apolitical biopic.
As Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister and the subject of countless working-class protest songs, Meryl Streep disappears behind old-age prosthetics, ghastly fake chompers and a typically impeccable accent. It’s a convincing impersonation—Streep nails Thatcher’s voice, her mannerisms, even her churlish spirit—but not a very probing one. Sentimental and proudly apolitical, this biopic from the director of Mamma Mia! twists the head of state’s history into an endless string of montages and Oscar-baiting speeches. It also manages the not-inconsiderable feat of making J. Edgar look edgy.
Much of the film takes place in the present, with an aged, ailing Thatcher carrying on imaginary conversations with her deceased husband (Jim Broadbent, gamely clowning his way through this Beautiful Mind redux). The flashbacks, which chronicle Thatcher’s years as a young parliamentary hopeful (played by Alexandra Roach) and her later campaign for PM, play out as the spotty recollections of a retired leader. This, one supposes, is the film’s defense mechanism: Since its vision of history can be justified as deliberately selective and rose-colored, there’s no need to take issue with the way screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame) glorifies Thatcher’s triumph over a sexist political system while conveniently avoiding discussion of her controversial hard-line conservative policies. (The film all but skips over the 1980s, which is a bit like making a movie about George W. Bush that ends with the 2000 election.)
What makes The Iron Lady not just foolish but reprehensible is the way it reduces Thatcher’s public opposition to a faceless, voiceless crowd—the unwashed masses pounding on her tinted car windows. In the Occupy Age, siding with the woman in the limo is tantamount to sympathy for the devil. The best protest here would be to save your money.