The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s controversial former Prime Minister, is undoubtedly a tour de force. But however accurate her portrayal, the film is not intended as a documentary or history lesson. Instead, it presents a fictionalised and at times melodramatic view of a hugely determined, productive and relentless woman as she reaches her twilight years.
While many of the key events of Thatcher’s political career are present in flashback, much of the film is spent in the company of the aged Thatcher, stalked by the ghost of her dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent, below), with whom she converses almost continuously. She is portrayed as a prisoner in her home, a prisoner of her memories and legacy. No matter what your views, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her as an older and isolated woman, and Streep’s performance – featuring an impeccable rendering of that voice – is nuanced.
The Iron Lady goes to great lengths to show that Thatcher is no longer the iron lady. It portrays her as a woman who was used by her party. But it is too concerned with maintaining our sympathy to show the spirit of Thatcher’s conviction with any sustained force, and remains resolutely politically neutral, for good or ill. Many viewers will baulk at the glossing over of some of Thatcher’s less appealing characteristics especially.
Perhaps the film’s greatest success – Streep’s magnificent performance aside – is in its portrait of a marriage. Margaret Thatcher was one of a kind, and many of her accomplishments she fought for alone. But Denis was always behind her, and accepting of her sacrifices. He was the one who knew her best.