Meryl Streep always takes acting to a higher plateau. In her new film, “The Iron Lady,” Streep gives a career crowning performance as the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Director Phyllida Lloyd employs a flashback format to paint an intimate portrait of the formidable woman whom the Soviets dubbed “The Iron Lady.” From humble beginnings working in her father’s grocery store, Thatcher went on to attend Oxford and, eventually, became a member of Parliament. The rest is history.
But history is where the film falls short. Aside from a segment devoted to the Falklands War, we glean little about her role in the world. The movie does touch upon the U.K.’s huge economic crisis, IRA terrorism and union busting, but not in depth. For the most part, we’re watching an aging Thatcher becoming increasingly senile, as her deceased husband (the wonderful Jim Broadbent) follows her around the flat.
There’s a “The King’s Speech” moment in the film when PR pros are giving Thatcher a makeover. She sheds her shrill trill, trading it for the breathy speaking style that becomes trademark. As Thatcher transforms, we become transfixed with Streep’s dead-on physical resemblance to the prime minister.
Her performance as “The Iron Lady” is a total triumph and, frankly, the only reason to see the film. The walk, the talk and the intricate idiosyncrasies are amazing to behold. It’s reminiscent of watching Streep portraying Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.” Her talent for becoming her character is unmatched. She is Thatcher.
But who was Thatcher? I have to question the decision of choosing the woman who directed “Mamma Mia!” to be in charge of such lofty subject matter. Lloyd makes grave historical mistakes in the film. We’re led to believe that Thatcher was the only female member of Parliament when the camera pans the House of Commons. In fact, there were 19 women MPs when she became Prime Minister in 1979. And one of the most exciting scenes, in which Airey Neave is assassinated, is inaccurate.
Given all of its shortcomings, “The Iron Lady” will most certainly garner a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Streep. It’s a pity that such a brilliant performance didn’t have better inspiration from which to shine.