The Iron Lady (2011) ★1/2

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.

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Posted on May 2, 2012, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I agree with most things you’ve said, except that I found the film so mediocre that I don’t ever bother to get angry about it.
    One thing I liked and not many people have mentioned yet, was the cinematography though. I thought it was fitting and at times very beautiful. Streep was good, but I think Rooney Mara would’ve deserved the Oscar (haven’t seen Albert Nobbs and My Week With Marilyn yet though).

    By the way, I really admire that you write reviews about films you didn’t like… I always feel guilty doing it, so usually I tend to write about films I love.

    • I don’t enjoy writing reviews of films I hate, but I do get sick of posting five star reviews all the time. It’s good to have something different.

  2. Excellent review. I hated the film with passion. Streep was pretty good but the script was an absolute mess. It was hard to figure out what the hell was going on and it was incredibly boring and unintentionally funny.

  3. I feel most biopics these days are put out as Oscar bait. And i also would have given the oscar to somebody else. Streep is capable of great performances(Her role in Doubt being a good example), but she was let down by the material here

  4. I haven’t seen this film yet for some reason. I unknowingly contributed to its box office when I asked for a ticket to see The Artist and ended up paying for this. I still went to see The Artist and Carnage in the same day instead. Bio-pics is something that I’ve grown to detest because it seems to follow a certain dramatic formula and I would often have issues with the dramatic liberties it took. There’s some that work because either they don’t play by the rules or they intentionally take liberties to make the story more interesting. Other than that, I still don’t like the bio-pic.

    • I really dislike biopics in general. They range from mildly annoying to outrageously terrible and I haven’t seen very many that I’ve liked.

  5. This is an awful film – one of the worst of last year, really. You get it spot on. Streep was good, but not Oscar-worthy, but it is lacklustre in almost every other way. I hated the photography and the use of score and the air of importance it has about it – the shots of her dress amidst the trousers, and the shots of British Parliament buildings as though from the POV of a child in awe. We are asked to be sympathetic of this horrible woman because she is now old and senile? No.

    • I completely agree with everything you said in that comment. The photography was bad. Another thing that really pissed me off that I didn’t put in my review was the use of archive footage of things such as riots and violence and etc. I really hate that.

  6. If it wasn’t for Streep’s performance, and it being released around Oscar time, then this film would have easily been forgotten about. Instead, it got 2 Oscars while The Tree of Life got nada. What the hell!?? Good review Tyler.

  7. Yeah, I didn’t love this film. It could have told such an interesting story, but instead we had to watch Meryl Streep sort out her clothes. Cool.

    • Haha that’s what I tweeted. I reckon a good 30 minutes of mundane and pointless stuff like that could’ve easily and deservingly been cut.

  8. I wouldnt ever watch this tosh. That woman ruined our country and I hate her so much that I shiver at the thought of this film.

    Nice review though :-)

    • I agree. This movie is stupid and so is Thatcher. I felt no sympathy for her and pitied her idiocy. I love how Roger Ebert put it in his review: “Thatcher’s foreign policy regarding the Falkland Islands is ‘They’re ours and you bloody well can’t have them!’”.

  9. I agree with “fails across the board”

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