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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher's Beautiful Mind

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: January 13, 2012 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Biography, History
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, 
Olivia Colman, Roger Allam, Susan Brown, 
Nick Dunning, Nicholas Farrell, Iain Glen, 
Richard E. Grant, Anthony Head, Harry Lloyd, 
Michael Maloney, Alexandra Roach, Pip Torrens
Julian Wadham, Angus Wright

The beginning of "The Iron Lady" casts a pall of depression that the rest of the movie never recovers from. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) first appears as a feeble old woman in an advanced state of dementia.

That unwelcome and unpleasant plot device rears its ugly head for far too many minutes until Thatcher is finally shown as a much younger woman (played at first by Alexandra Roach, who ages into Streep eventually). Unfortunately, every time the main story builds momentum, the film switches back to the sick, elderly version of Thatcher. It's an unwanted distraction and intrusion. A ridiculous amount of time is wasted portraying her hallucinations and delusional conversations with her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). These obviously fictionalized scenes are extremely tacky, exploitative, and completely unnecessary.

If you're expecting a detailed look at Thatcher's political career and role in the Falklands War, how she handled the economic crisis in England at that time, or her close relationship with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, read a book instead. The film races through her reign as Prime Minister. The historic events she presided over are presented as a series of "greatest hits" with one clip after another. Catchy tunes punctuate each moment. "The Iron Lady" would rather be a glorified music video. There's not a shred of depth to be found anywhere.

Some of the scenes involving Margaret Thatcher's years as Prime Minister are shot in a bizarre manner for seemingly no reason. The perspective is tilted, with several quick close-ups and cuts. Is this jarring camerawork supposed to signify that the older, demented version of Thatcher is thinking back to her younger glory days? Or maybe it's meant to imply that she began losing her faculties while she was still Prime Minister? Whatever the case may be, it serves no purpose and doesn't work at all.

As expected, Thatcher is presented as a woman of strength – but only sometimes and not nearly enough. More often than not, she's portrayed as an insecure little girl who's laughed at behind closed doors or from a safe distance. These scenes are probably designed to emphasize the barriers she broke through to reach the lofty heights of becoming Britain's first (and still only) female Prime Minister. Instead, they come across as silly and make her look weak and childish.

There's even a cutesy scene – obviously meant to be humorous – where her male political advisors instruct her to ditch her hat and pearl necklace. She insists on keeping the pearls because they were a gift from her husband. Factual or not, it feels more like Sarah Palin than Margaret Thatcher. Still, it does lighten the mood of the movie at the right time.

Even today, Thatcher remains one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in the history of British politics. People either adore the ground she walked on or spit on that same pavement at the mere mention of her name. But that, too, is glossed over – shown only in small bits and bites.

"The Iron Lady" is a shallow mess with a brain-dead script. Margaret Thatcher's incredible life seems to be an afterthought. This is really a movie about a sick, crazy old lady who sees dead people. The only saving grace is Meryl Streep's remarkable performance, for which she won an Academy Award. I wish she could have played the same part in a much better film.

Margaret Thatcher passed away on April 8, 2013 at the age of 87.

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