The Iron Lady (2011)
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd

Premise: A biopic of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), Britain’s first female Prime Minister.

What Works: The Iron Lady is an opportunity for some very good actors to showcase their talents. The film is led by Meryl Streep as Thatcher and her work in The Iron Lady is one of the high points in a very distinguished career. Streep disappears into the role and as the narrative jumps around the timeline the story encounters Thatcher at various points in her life. Streep plays each part very well with subtle differences in her voice, posture, and demeanor for each incarnation. Aside from Streep there is also an effective contribution by Alexandra Roach as the young Margaret Thatcher. Although Roach’s screen time is limited, her performance blends well with Streep’s scenes and she provides a solid foundation for the character. There is also a strong supporting performance by Jim Broadbent as Denis, Margaret Thatcher’s husband. The script does not give him much to do but Broadbent has a lot of presence and the relationship between the couple is very sweet and gives the film many of its best scenes.

What Doesn’t: Although The Iron Lady has some very good performances, the film makes nearly every mistake that is common to biographical films. To start, the picture has no coherent take on its subject. The movie never settles on who Margaret Thatcher was or what kind of character she is supposed to be in this film; the picture banks on viewer recognition to fill in that space. This creates a hole at the center of the story. The film doesn’t really have a protagonist with a coherent goal or personality trait that is going to be explored throughout the film. This leads to problems in the plotting. The Iron Lady has a lot of varied historical situations and set pieces but they don’t appear to have been selected based upon any controlling idea. There is no plot to The Iron Lady; it is just a collection of anecdotes from Margaret Thatcher’s life. Making this worse, The Iron Lady uses the nonlinear editing style that has become popular in biopics, and the juxtaposition of past and present doesn’t create any meaningful contrasts. This storytelling style also negatively impacts the viewing experience for audience members who aren’t familiar with Thatcher’s biography. The picture is confusing because the viewer will struggle to put all the pieces together while watching it and that is made worse by the fact that those pieces don’t really fit together in the first place.  All of these basic flaws result in a movie that isn’t really about anything. Viewers aren’t going to learn anything revelatory about Margaret Thatcher from watching this film nor will viewers be lead to an interesting conclusion about her life and legacy.

Bottom Line: The Iron Lady has some very good performances. In fact, the principle actors are so good that it is a shame that the script is so messy. But performances alone do not make a film and The Iron Lady is just too incoherent.

 

Episode: #373 (January 29, 2012)