The Iron Lady

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(out of 5)


A slightly disoriented eighty year-old woman buys milk at a local supermarket and comes home to tell her husband, over breakfast, that the price has gone up and isn’t it appalling? When her housekeeper comes in to check on her, she finds a woman alone, talking to herself, a woman who was once the most powerful in the world. This is Margaret Thatcher, suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s and haunted by visions of her late husband Denis as she resists the impending trauma of giving his things away and letting go of one of her last strong ties to reality. What this provokes is a whole day of Thatcher wandering about her home and revisiting memories of her enormously impressive career: her young, early days in politics when a degree from Oxford and a superbly willful personality overcame the prejudice of being a grocer’s daughter and pretty much the only member of her sex trying to make it in politics, her eventual triumphs in local government and, at her zenith, the first ever elected female leader of a first-world country. Her critics will be infuriated to see the nastiness of Thatcher’s ultra-conservative politics glossed over in this film: breaking the unions and inspiring a devastating recession are tough aspects of her life we have to simply get over in favour of the feminist triumph angle, and then we celebrate her late-career victory in the Falkland Islands (another highly unpopular situation that is not necessarily given its fair level of complexity). What is actually happening here is that shoring up a value sheet of Thatcher’s career is not among director Phyllida Lloyd or screenwriter Abi Morgan’s intentions. It’s a private film, narrated from the point of view of a woman whose trajectory, which essentially takes place over a very short period of time, is focused on accepting her own vulnerability to the same human frailties that affect all those who aren’t as determined to avoid them as she is. Essentially a political Mrs. Dalloway, this one aims to be a parliamentary-level repeat of The Queen without as much success; it does not quite juxtapose themes of duty versus desire as effectively as Stephen Frears’ film does (there’s far too little of her personal life to make up for the vague political stuff), but it does have its highlights. Morgan’s screenplay gives us Thatcher’s internal experience of key moments of her life and career without overt explanation, where simple moments like covering butter during a World War II air raid do so much to illustrate her unyielding personality, and difficult dramatic situations like her angrily taunting one of her cabinet ministers over a minor issue let us know the moment that her mental health was possibly beginning to deteriorate. What the film really has in its corner, however, is a spellbinding :  under heavy prosthesis and some wickedly well-recreated candy-floss hairstyles, she has come up with one of her most riveting and inspiring creations yet. There’s barely a scene that she is not in and, as a showcase for her immense talent, you could hardly do better. It is thoroughly exciting to watch her deliver speeches and dress down the boys around her, but the quiet moments of satisfaction, the confused stares as she watches home movies in her old age or just the regrets that keep her up at night are equally mesmerizing. Surrounding her is a terrific cast of British actors who do not disappoint, including  and , with the best work coming from  (as the beloved Denis),  as daughter Carol, and an excellent  as the young Margaret Thatcher.


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United Kingdom/France, 2011

Directed by 

Screenplay by 

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Produced by

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Academy Awards
Best Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep as “Margaret Thatcher”)
Best Makeup (Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland)

Golden Globe Award
Best Performance By An Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama (Meryl Streep)

New York Film Critics Award
Best Actress (Meryl Streep)

National Society of Film Critics Award Nomination
Best Actress (Meryl Streep)

Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep)

British Academy Awards
Best Leading Actress (Meryl Streep)
Best Make Up & Hair

Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Jim Broadbent)
Best Original Screenplay

European Film Award Nomination
Audience Award

Toronto Film Critics Award Nomination
Best Actress (Meryl Streep)

Boston Film Critics Award Nomination
Best Actress (Meryl Streep)


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