PHYLLIDA Lloyd, who directed Meryl Streep in the ABBA-based musical Mamma Mia!, followed it with The Iron Lady (Sunday, 8.30pm, M Premiere), another big hit, in which Streep played Britain’s longest-serving 20th-century prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. We all know Streep’s way with accents and impersonations: no one is better at this game. But her performance here is nothing short of amazing — dark, complex, nuanced and utterly convincing. Lloyd and her screenwriter Abi Morgan have brilliantly interwoven Thatcher’s personal story (from girlhood to demented old age) with a graphic portrayal of the mood and spirit of her time.
One reason The Iron Lady is likely to appeal to Australian audiences is that its story is familiar. I can think of at least one former Australian prime minister, popularly elected and widely admired, whose government (like Thatcher’s) managed the economy successfully in difficult times, but who was forced out of office by colleagues, who accused him of arrogance and bullying. Which brings us (in a manner of speaking) to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (Monday, 6.30pm, M Masterpiece), based on Lionel Shriver’s haunting novel. I couldn’t put the book down when I read it a couple of years ago, and this sad, wrenching film does justice to it. Tilda Swinton is superb as the mother of a disturbed adolescent jailed for committing a horrific crime at a school in Connecticut — a masterly blend of horror, drama and psychological insight, whose parallels with recent events give it a dreadful topicality.
One of the great films of World War II, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Saturday, 9.20pm, Fox Classics) is about a famous US bombing raid on Tokyo and Yokohama — America’s first major retaliatory strike against Japan after the humiliation of Pearl Harbor. Spencer Tracy plays the leader of the mission but Van Johnson is the real star. In the same year (1944), Hollywood covered the home front with another classic, Since You Went Away (Saturday, 11.45pm, Fox Classics), a superior weepie about an American family coping while dad is at the war. At just less than three hours it was long by the standards of its time, and even by today’s, but the hours pass quickly and there are touching performances from Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones and a teenage Shirley Temple.
Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (Saturday, 10.10pm, M Thriller/Crime) is one of those rare action films with a minimum of action, which is not to say that not much happens. Aron Ralston (James Franco) is an adventure-loving trail-bike rider and mountaineer who in April 2003 found himself trapped under a boulder in a remote canyon in Utah, unable to free himself and unable to call for help. Somehow he kept himself alive with odd particles of food and sips from a water bottle. Harrowing and unforgettable.
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, M Premiere
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 10.10pm, M Thriller/Crime
(PG) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 11.45pm, Fox Classics
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher