Streep Rules as Thatcher in The Iron Lady
- Friday, January 13, 2012
She loses one election but wins the next, then faces a different kind of fight: how to put an end to her male colleagues’ chauvinism. In a film lacking visual verve, one highlight is a shot of Thatcher from above as she enters Parliament for the first time dressed in blue—a vibrant standout among the male legislators’ dark hats. In screenwriter Morgan’s selective telling, Thatcher proves a formidable debater but also needs help with her vocal style and dress. “Your voice is too high. It has no authority,” says a speech trainer. She soon finds her voice, taking on the terrorist tactics of the IRA, the battle for the Falkland Islands (“it’s a war they started; by God, we’ll finish it”), the unions and what she calls “the shackles of socialism.” Her advisers warn her about appearing to be out of touch, but she never appears to waver from her belief that only those with the greatest needs should be offered government assistance. Everyone else should work hard to get by and achieve a higher standard of living.
Streep, too, finds her voice as Thatcher—quite literally. Beyond her physical resemblance to Thatcher, Streep has nailed the former prime minister’s voice, allowing the audience to fall under the spell of Thatcher’s speeches and ideas. She makes Thatcher sympathetic without compromising the politician’s unswerving beliefs, even after the public turns on her.
The Iron Lady is strongest in showing Thatcher’s rise and political rule, but it sags when the story reverts to Thatcher in her old age. These sequences are sometimes tender, but the frailty on display threatens to overwhelm the dynamic depiction of Thatcher in her prime. The strength of the film is due almost entirely to Streep’s wonderful performance, and not so much to Morgan’s script, which too lightly skates over the “why” of some of Thatcher’s decisions. (Ronald Reagan admirers also will be disappointed by the brief attention paid to the American president.) However, when Thatcher gives a speech or addresses her advisers, the conviction in her voice and words provides a resounding reminder that her ideas, when expressed by someone who firmly believes in them, haven’t lost their power. Even those who disagree with the ideas should admire Thatcher’s against-the-odds tenacity in tackling an old boys’ club mentality in Parliament.
Streep’s masterful performance makes The Iron Lady worth watching, even though the film is far from perfect. Denis’ antics grow tiresome, and the film never provides enough depth in covering the political upheaval in Great Britain or the strains in Thatcher’s marriage and relationship with her children. But when it’s good, The Iron Lady soars on the personal dynamism and political rhetoric of a politician who stood up for what she believed in. The Iron Lady is a film that deserves to be seen and discussed.
- Language/Profanity: “d-mn”; “by God”; “ba-tards”; “lily-livered pinkos.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Margaret requests whiskey with dinner; a man pours liquid from a flask into his and Margaret’s cups; Margaret drinks while watching a video and later at dinner; her husband tells her, “You’re drinking too much”; a cigar is lit.
- Sex/Nudity: Topless women are briefly seen; husband and wife kiss.
- Violence/Crime: A bloody victim of a bombing is shown; a car bomb detonates, killing the driver; footage of dead horses and more bombings carried out by the IRA.
- Religion: Margaret shares a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
- Marriage: Margaret tells her husband-to-be that she’ll never be one of those women who does housework and nothing else, explaining that she wants to “be more than that” and that she “cannot die washing a teacup”; Denis heads overseas after being reminded that he married someone “committed to public service.”
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