Last night, PJ and I saw The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. We both love Streep, so we’ve been waiting for this movie to come to Athens and eagerly anticipating seeing it. Here’s the trailer:
The Iron Lady has gotten mixed reviews. The main problem, it seems to me, is the trailer, which gives the impression that the movie is about Thatcher’s years in office and gives viewers the idea that Streep’s performance is a caricature. Both are wrong.
The film is really about what it means to be old and dealing with the overwhelming loss of one’s mate. Margaret Thatcher is just the vehicle for an exploration of what it means to be near the end of one’s life and to have lost almost everything that gave that life meaning. In this case, that includes one’s husband, political power, and national visibility.
Streep is simply amazing in this movie. I went into it worried that it was indeed going to be a caricature. But Streep imbues this character with real emotion, an inner life that makes the audience feel the loss that this woman is undergoing. I loved Viola Davis in The Help, but I am now convinced that Streep gives the stronger and more lasting performance. This performance is not the lightweight one of The Devil Wears Prada or Julie and Julia. This is a masterclass in acting. Whether she wins the Oscar or not, Streep deserves it, and I really hope the rumors about August: Osage County are true and that she will be starring in it next year.
It’s basically a one-woman show. Jim Broadbent is good as her husband, and we see lots of other characters in the flashbacks. But it’s really all about Streep’s performance and the exploration of Thatcher’s life and career. The basic structure of the film is to cut back and forth between the present and Thatcher’s past. I’ll admit that these flashbacks were a little clunky at times, and I increasingly wanted to stay with the present-day Thatcher to see how she is dealing with the death of her husband — the triggering event of the movie is that she is trying to decide whether to dispose of his clothes and belongings now that he’s been dead for some time. The struggle to make this decision has affected her deeply.
Some critics fault the film for not portraying Thatcher more negatively. I thought the movie didn’t need to beat us over the head with how hated she was in many quarters — it shows us this repeatedly. It didn’t need to do more.
All in all, this is a much better film than people are giving it credit for. I postulate that critics and some audiences just can’t find a movie about an elderly woman interesting enough — anyone who says this movie isn’t about something or that it doesn’t express a point of view about Thatcher falls into this category, I think. I loved it and will rejoice if Streep wins Best Actress again finally.