Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Iron Lady - A Shorthand portrayal of a political giant

Politics never has and never will be my strong point. I acknowledge this at the very onset of this review since the focus here will be a formidable and controversial leader in British politics. My interest lies solely in the ability of the motion picture to effectively paint a portrayal of the iron lady aka Margaret Thatcher, to understand her, witness her rise in the corridors of politics, study her eleven years of reign and then the fall. And I have to admit, the biopic barely delivers in this category. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, 'The Iron Lady' however gets one major detail correct in its casting of the incredibly talented Meryl Streep. And in that lies its deliverance.

Starting with Thatcher as an octogenarian(Streep in heavy prosthetics), we witness a woman in the throes of dementia, carrying on a conversation about the price of milk with her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). She hallucinates him and maybe only the disposal of his items still kept around the house, will pull him out the recesses of her mind. As the present slips between reality and the imaginary, Thatcher's mind takes her into the past chapters of an important life. The humble beginnings of a grocer's daughter in Grantham shows a girl with steely ambition when she is the only pair of heels in a roomful of men's shoes at her father's town meetings. That indeed forms her surroundings through her career, the lone pair of heels in rooms full of men's shoes.

Her entry to Oxford and then the times of her emerging voice in politics are glossed over. An elderly lady of unsound mind peers unsurely into her past, skimming over her entry to 10 Downing street in 1979 and the important events that framed her 11 years of prime ministership. Her imagination of her deceased husband seems clearer to her than those years of power and battle. Unfortunately, such seems the case for the audience as well. Instead of a woman sticking to her convictions in the face of severe opposition, turning the economy of a flailing country, bringing about the privatization of various sectors, winning back the Falkland Islands from Argentina's invasion, Lloyd seems more content to portray an old ill woman wondering through the rooms of her house trying to chase away the illusion of her dead husband. Matters of consequence are skimmed over and it is almost as if her dementia takes center stage.

Lloyd's saving grace is the inimitable actor that is Meryl Streep who can, in face of little argument, be called the greatest living actor of our times. We are aware of her chameleon like quality to disappear into any character, real or fictional and adapt to any physicality and voice modulation. Every one of those skills are honed to perfection for us to witness here. Margaret Thatcher was one of the premier public personalities of the not too distant eighties and she was splashed all over the television and radio.To effectively impersonate her would have been a herculean task for anyone but Streep. The sadness is when that great a performance is not matched by the content. A nod to the ever dependable Jim Broadbent in his wonderfully reliable portrayal of Denis.

Phyllida Lloyd whose previous outing as screen director was the subpar money spinner 'Mamma Mia', had claimed in an interview that this movie was not so much about a leader, as it was of somebody once important who had since faded into oblivion. The tragedy of old age was what she had intended to capture. A good thought that and a wonderful concept if that was the story we had come to witness. When you show us a life as important as Margaret Thatcher, you owe it to the world to portray the strength. Hate her some did, love her some did. But even divided in feelings, her life had mattered and a lot of what we saw of her life on that screen did not.

Surely for a woman who was labelled 'The Iron Lady' and in her times 'the most important person of Europe', it is not the tragic reality of old age that would do justice but the memory of a woman who thought ahead and put those thoughts into fearless action. At the end, I couldnt dismiss the movie for the central performance is too important to shrug off. It is the route the movie takes which finally fails.

Released in 2012
Running in Theatres
My Rating: 3/5


  1. Completely agree with: "Hate her some did, love her some did. But even divided in feelings, her life had mattered and a lot of what we saw of her life on that screen did not."

    Catches the essence of the feeling I got when I saw the movie.

    1. Thanks Aditi! I think that was the emotion the movie evoked in the majority of its audience. Not a bad movie by any measure, but just couldnt do justice to its subject.