The Iron Lady (2011)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
Runtime: 105 minutes
My Rating: ★1/2
In Short: A film that could’ve been interesting but fails across the board; weak and ineffectual
I was criticised when I expressed my outrage and contempt for Meryl Streep winning the Oscar for her performance in The Iron Lady because at the time I had not seen it. Now that I have, I still think she did not deserve to win, but by no means is her performance in The Iron Lady bad. In fact, it’s quite good. But it suffers from a multitude of issues, many of which are not Streep’s fault. But more on those later.
The film is the story of the elderly life of Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain’s most talked-about prime ministers. Some regard her with contempt, some idolise her. The director Phyllida Lloyd seems to have no stance, no real opinion, which is not in itself a bad thing, but as the film goes on it becomes obvious how clueless Lloyd is both as a director and a storyteller. Lloyd is aided in no way by the screenplay by Abi Morgan, which varies from mildly interesting to atrocious at times. Lloyd and Morgan spend a great deal of time focusing on Thatcher in her retirement, as she fondly recalls her career and her late husband. This idea in itself could’ve worked, but Morgan’s idiotic screenplay seems to know very little of Thatcher’s political career; the scenes that focus on her as Prime Minister, expressing her beliefs and her political choices, seem to paint her as an elegant, determined, sophisticated woman who makes childish decisions and seems perplexed when the results are negative.
There are also scenes from earlier in Thatcher’s life where the director and writer can’t seem to decide whether she is a politician or an activist for womens’ rights. Her impassioned speeches, as historically valid as they might be, seem empty and amount to nothing. I have no qualms with a movie that chooses to focus more on the ‘talking’ than the ‘doing,’ but at least the talking could lead to some sort of resolution! Is that too much to ask? Towards the end of the film Lloyd and Morgan decide the flashbacks of Thatcher’s political career no longer matter, and decide to end the film with a few pointless scenes of her clumsily collapsing into the early stages of senility. I don’t know what I was supposed to learn from this film, but it seems terribly excited and nostalgic for a past it knows little about.
As I said earlier, Streep’s performance isn’t bad. I respect her for doing the best she could with what she had, and, with the assistance of terrific makeup, she really adds a presence to a few impressive scenes, but everyone else involved with the film seems as if they couldn’t care less. Streep seems to be the only one making an effort, while director Lloyd and screenwriter Morgan seem to be clumsily putting together an ostensibly shitty movie without really trying to make sense of it all. That annoys me. A lot. To be frank, it irritates the hell out of me. There are so many directors in today’s mainstream crop that seem to be “in it for the ride,” not really giving a shit about making a decent movie and simply there for the cash. And sure, that in itself can sometimes be fine, but when you’re making a movie based on true events about an important person, you shouldn’t be lazy. You should make the effort to put together a coherent narrative that isn’t meandering or time-wasting. Maybe if some more emotion and heart was put into the scenes of Thatcher’s elderly life, instead of the contrived fakeness that seems so bloody obvious, they might have been of some worth, but instead, I can’t see why on Earth they’re there. Is this a film about her career or her retirement? I don’t think Streep even knows.
You can dress up a turd as nicely as you want. You can get some fancy voice to call it “a masterpiece” on the TV spots. You can show Meryl Streep’s profile in silhouette, her hands clasped, thinking really hard about god knows what. You can try your best to make a character considered despicable by many into something sympathetic and understandable. But at the end of the day, you still have an awful film that, as hard as it tries to use whatever strengths it may be capable of, fails at almost everything. The Iron Lady is as bad as a biopic can get without completely twisting the truth. It could have been interesting, it could have been challenging; hell, it could have even been important, but instead it is sloppy, insignificant, weak and ineffectual.