Thursday, 19 January 2012

THE IRON LADY (2011) - 3 STARS

"With all due respect sir, I have done battle, every single day of my life."


DIRECTOR: Phyllida LLOYD
STARRING: Meryl STREEP, Jim BROADBENT, Olivia COLMAN

Life hasn't been easy for me in the past 18 months and some of that is down to the struggling times myself and millions of Britons are living in under the current government. So I was keen to learn more about the last time Great Britain was in a similar predicament and decided to see how this biopic would depict one of our greatest, if controversial leaders on the big screen. Margaret Thatcher held her own as a female activist looking to overcome power and sexism in order to lead her country and for twelve years, she had her fair share of supporters and haters. Unfortunately this particular depiction doesn't quite capture the essence of Thatcher's reign and instead focuses mostly on her declining health and flashbacks of her time in charge though a commanding performance from Meryl Streep saves it from being completely unsatisfactory....


Told through three different periods, we see an aging, dementia-suffering Margaret Thatcher (Streep) in 2003 struggling to remember that her devoted husband Dennis (Broadbent) is dead as she constantly sees him as an imaginary figure much to the concern of her daughter Carol (Colman). It is that segment where Thatcher recalls her life in politics as she firstly flashes back to the 1950s when we see her as a young but determined greengrocer's daughter (Alexandra Roach) who ignores the taunts from male adversaries and decides to run for MP for her local town before her step-up to the Houses of Parliament. The other significant period focuses on her election as prime minister in the late 1970s as she stamps her authority on the various problems which Britain finds itself in during the 1980s as she tackles the rise of unemployment leading to mass protests, narrowly survives an IRA bomb attack at the Brighton hotel which she and Dennis stayed in and battling with Argentina over the ownership of the Falklands War. The end of her reign effectively sends her into exile as the senile Thatcher struggles to overcome regret and dismay with the way her life turned out....


Rarely do I choose to show my criticism for a film BEFORE praising it which is what I want to address with The Iron Lady's problems. What could have been a true political biopic like Milk (2008) instead becomes a disjointed and contrived narrative which Lloyd fails to steady even with a talented writer in Abi Morgan (who recently co-wrote the stunning Shame) whose screenplay seems to move all over the place when it comes to balancing out the three different time periods. It mostly chooses to focus on Thatcher in her declining health which is intriguing to watch but it is no surprise why companions of hers have been offended by the way she is portrayed as a woman who has gone mad and continues to imagine her husband Dennis still being alive. Cynical is definitely a word to describe its focus on her in that setting and the hallucinations of Dennis appearing in Maggie's mind get tiresome after a while. From then on, we see Thatcher as a young woman, then back to being old, then being in her prime, back to young, back to old, it's all very confusing for those who want to know more about Thatcher in a big way but Lloyd doesn't really allow the film to flow properly through the quick editing that rushes through too many scenes. More crucially though all the key aspects of Thatcher's political career and the legacy she had in office is only mentioned in snippets with old newsreel footage being the only visual evidence of what Britain went through during her tenure. So if you're wanting to see how the miner's strikes, and the unemployment and other significant events in her reign, then you won't find it here as historical inaccuracies also add to this film's problems. We don't even get to hear her say her infamous line "The Lady is not for turning!".


However Lloyd can at least garner some credit for making a more stylish and mature film compared to her colourful but silly musical Mamma Mia that doesn't overpraise Thatcher nor does it really criticise her tenure though the experienced star of Mia is the one who manages to carry this film throughout. Similarly to Clint Eastwood's Invictus with Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela, this is the role many people had waited for Meryl Streep to play and it is easy to see that the film would have really struggled completely without her. She all but submerges herself in the character of Thatcher with an eerily accurate similarity in terms of facial appearance (all down to the cleverly detailed makeup that captures her looks) and also shows her vulnerabilities whether it be as a wife, as Prime Minister or in her senile state. The tough as nails expression and steely personality is also conveyed by Streep showing the authoritative stature of Thatcher and it's no surprise that she currently leads the way in the Oscar race as she looks to win for the third time. There are enough scenes in this film to help her win anyway. Her supporting cast has enough talent to give the film some further versatility with Broadbent engaging as Dennis while Colman, Roach, Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant add some experience to the film though sadly the latter two are underused by Lloyd in favour of the show-stopping Streep who dominates every scene she is in. Of course, like Mamma Mia, Lloyd does a satisfactory job of using her production value well with the costumes proving accurate for their time and the realistic makeup used on Streep also beautifully submerged.


VERDICT: One simply has to say this was a missed opportunity by Lloyd to make a truly starting biopic of one of Britains' greatest figures with a disorganised narrative proving its downfall through Streep's excellent performance stops the film from disappointing.

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