The Iron Lady

Like it or not, the film will leave you disappointed long before it finally ends.

The Iron LadyWhile I don’t want to sound unfair, it is impossible to tell if The Iron Lady is really about Margaret Thatcher or Meryl Streep. The film itself devolves to the point where only the legendary Ms. Streep is on display, resulting in a beautiful performance that is far more notable than the film itself.

While I have noted in recent reviews the tendency of recognized national film critics to unduly praise the legends of the cinema, a recent Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times reaffirms that disturbing tendency. To begin with, ignore for a moment pedestrian reviews by Pete Hammond of Backstage Magazine and Shawn Edwards of Fox-TV, who predictably describe the regrettable Joyful Noise as “it will have you dancing in the aisles” and “Dolly Parton is . . .better than ever”. To be quite frank, both men do little more than repeatedly shill for the movie industry.

More to the point, look at the ad for The Iron Lady itself. Respected reviewers like Richard Corliss of Time call Streep’s role “the best performance of the year”; A.O. Scott of the New York Times says “Meryl Streep is brilliant!”; and David Edelstein of New York Magazine says “Meryl Streep is too marvelous to resist!”

My point is simply to say that these reviewers have worshiped at the foot of the movie altar for so long that they are left repeatedly singing the praises of the Gods of the industry. Sure, Ms. Streep gives a wonderful performance, but the movie itself would have all but disappeared if any other accomplished actress (i.e., Vanessa Redgrave) had played Ms. Thatcher.

The simple truth is that the film itself suffers mightily from the regrettable fact that you learn little about Ms. Thatcher. Sure, she remains the only woman to have ever served as Britain’s Prime Minister, but it is also overwhelmingly apparent that she was a supremely arrogant human being.

Additionally, as the working class suffered mightily during her tenure, she repeatedly argued against raising taxes for the wealthy. In a sense, you get the disturbing feeling that she would easily have fit in to the Republican contest for President in this year’s primaries.

In the end, someone has to hold Director Phyllida Lloyd accountable for her unfortunate decision to devote so much time to the elderly Ms. Thatcher as she wrestled with obvious mental difficulties. I find it remarkable that Ms. Streep bears such massive praise while the accomplished Jim Broadbent is all but ignored in a very funny role as her late husband.

Regardless, the movie leaves the audience in a tragic vacuum as it does little more than reflect an aging Ms. Thatcher wrestling with the death of her dear husband while basically ignoring her lengthy tenure as Prime Minister. Sure, you see an occasional reference to the violence of the IRA in Ireland as well as England’s haughty Falkland Island War against Argentina, but the movie provides little depth about anything else.

I truly don’t think it is an exaggeration to describe Ms. Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher as being little more than Julia Child becoming Prime Minister. While Ms. Street is rightfully praised for her marvelous performance as a woman descending into the darkness of her surviving years, you are left with the inevitable impression that she was far less admirable when she was Prime Minister.

Reflecting on The Iron Lady as I left the theater, I couldn’t help but conclude that Ms. Street has mutated into a modern-day Paul Muni. In his prime, Mr. Muni was recognized as a great historical actor in such legendary films as Scarface (1932), The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) and Juarez (1939). It would be wise for her to remember that he played historical figures in movies that functioned as truly engaging films. I’m sorry, Ms. Streep, but The Iron Lady does not.