Susan Granger’s review of “The Iron Lady” (The Weinstein Company)
To call Meryl Streep an Oscar contender for her intimate, insightful impersonation of Margaret Thatcher is a gross understatement. Delivering what – without question – is the most commanding performance of the year, Streep should be an absolute shoo-in. But one never knows with the Academy.
Beginning with her twilight years in her Chester Square home, she chats amiably with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), long after his death. The story then artfully flashes back to Margaret Thatcher’s political rise, running, unsuccessfully, at first, for the House of Parliament and then becoming the first and only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, relentlessly dominating her party and staunchly leading Great Britain through various financial crises, the miners’ strike of 1983, IRA attacks, the Brighton bombing and the Falklands War – for 11 consecutive years, from 1979-1990.
Daughter of a Grantham grocer, young Maggie Roberts (Alexandra Roach) always spoke with conviction and confidence, often infuriating stodgy, local representatives. Quite smitten, young, compliant Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd) vowed to help her win a Conservative seat in Parliament in 1959.
Aided by hair/make-up designer J. Roy Helland, Meryl Streep replicates not only Margaret Thatcher’s facial gestures, implacable demeanor and distinctive posture but also her specific speech timbre which changed – with training – from a high-pitched screech to a more authoritative contralto. Streep’s detailed physical and verbal mimicry is phenomenal.
The weakness of the project lies with Abi Morgan’s glossy, less-than-incisive screenplay, which director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) enlivens by interweaving Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?” from “King and I,” as well as other nostalgic music, amidst the archival footage and testy interaction with her daughter, Carol Thatcher (Olivia Colman). Margaret Thatcher’s close relationship with President Ronald Reagan gets scant attention, although her famous comeuppance to then-Sec. of State Alexander Haig serves as a delicious prelude to tea. Regretfully, the editing is both choppy and confusing in context.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Iron Lady” is an intriguing 8, highly recommended because of Meryl Streep’s incredibly accomplished, cinematic portraiture.