"“It fails to engross the viewer and perhaps takes too kind a look at someone who upset many people...”"
The Iron Lady is the first cinema-released biopic of the infamous former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, yet Phyllida Lloyd's production bears a somewhat ironic title, given that the film is more of a depiction of Thatcher's fragilities, rather than the strength of character for which she became so renowned.
The film opens in the present day, portraying Thatcher, played by the well-cast Meryl Streep, as an elderly woman, struggling to adapt to modern society and civilisation. Suffering from dementia, Thatcher is continuously haunted by hallucinations of her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent).
In spite of her condition, Thatcher begins to reflect upon her life, recalling past memories of herself and Denis, as well as recounting her days in charge of Great Britain, having flashbacks from being a young, self-assured student (played by Alexandra Roach), to becoming the first ever female Prime Minister. She looks back fondly on the successful times, whilst musing at the more difficult periods, such as the IRA terrorist attack threatening her life at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, and the backlash she received from the Great British public.
It would be rather easy to depict the life of Thatcher in a negative way, almost taking on the role of a political protest film, so therefore one certainly appreciates Lloyd's efforts in taking a different view upon Thatcher and applying some essential impartiality on the subject, yet Lloyd has gone too far in the other direction, giving Thatcher too much sympathy.
The attempt to showcase Thatcher's fragility seems somewhat contrived, as if a deliberate attempt to make the audience feel sorry for her. Much emphasis is put on the modern day Thatcher: an elderly, vulnerable woman, suffering from a form of mental illness. This is a matter that is rightfully touched upon, but doesn't need to be so important to the story. It's very easy to feel empathy towards an old woman going senile, and Lloyd clearly pushes this.
Yet despite highlighting the compassionate side to Thatcher, it would seem only right for Lloyd to balance the feature, and also be severe in her representation of the political side, the side that caused the most upset. Yet even Thatcher's most notable political misgivings are merely touched upon, and done so in a quite light-hearted manner. For example when Thatcher is making an important speech to American counterparts, justifying the Falkland's War, it ends on a quip about making a cup of tea, provoking laughter from the audience.
The story itself is told in a non-conventional format – quite different to most biopics, as we witness the story of Thatcher through flashbacks and memories, rather than simply being presented chronologically. However, as already established, there is just too much emphasis put onto the modern day. This is a tale about a woman who has been through an incredible amount, therefore looking at Thatcher in her most absent of years seems an odd thing to do.
This proved particularly annoying for myself, seeking education as well as enjoyment. Having not lived through the Thatcher years, I wanted to learn from the production, and discover more about the woman I have heard so much of. Yet when occurring, the flashbacks seem too cinematic and therefore inaccurate. Lloyd's début feature was Mamma Mia!, which may just explain why this is the case.
The one distinct positive to derive from The Iron Lady is the performance of Streep. She is exceptional throughout, equally as impressive when presenting Thatcher as a younger, confident character, to the gentle figure of the present day. Her performance really proving to be a saving grace for an otherwise lacklustre production. The other notable performance is made by Olivia Colman, starring as Thatcher's daughter Carol.
In some ways Streep's terrific portrayal of Thatcher is frustrating, given the mediocrity of the feature. She is perfect casting for the role and brings a wonderful fervour to the part, and it's a shame such talent was not to be utilised in a more substantial and stand-out production. You only truly get one shot at a biopic, and Thatcher has led a fascinating, albeit it contentious, life with so many intriguing twists, so I can't help but feel that The Iron Lady is somewhat of a waste of a strong story and character, as I doubt it will be done again, at least not for a long while.
It's not terrible, it just feels uninspiring and unfulfilling. So much potential lies within the story, that it seems such a shame to deem the feature disappointing, but it fails to engross the viewer and perhaps takes too kind a look at someone who upset many people when in cabinet. You want The Iron Lady to be a film that Margaret Thatcher wouldn't want to see, but I can't help but feel that she may quite enjoy it.