Saturday, 7 January 2012

Film Review: "The Iron Lady" (2011)

"We will stand on principle... or we will not stand at all." This is at the heart of The Iron Lady. This British biographical film directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The film explores the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power. The film is narrated through a series of flashbacks, including the 17 days leading up to the Falklands War in 1982.

The role of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was played by Meryl Streep, Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher, was played by Jim Broadbent and Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, is portrayed by Anthony Head. The cast gave terrific performances, especially Streep who has given one of her finest performances. In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action. Extensive filming took place at the neogothic Manchester Town Hall, which is often used as a location double for films which feature the Houses of Parliament because of its architectural similarity. However, her performance could have been perfect if the script had been tweaked and couldn’t have followed the conventional biopic narrative. Though Streep was a risky choice, due to her nationality, I thought it was, in the end, the best choice and she played the part well. The rest of the cast were super, but unfortunately were overshadowed by Streep. I felt Broadbent and Head were either minimized to a fault or were cut too short. However, I admired what they brought to their roles.

Even though great performances were displayed and no matter how much director Lloyd tried to bring to the characterization of Thatcher, there were major flaws with the film. For example, in the film, it was suggested that Thatcher had said goodbye to her friend Airey Neave only a few moments before his assassination, and had to be held back from the scene by security officers. In fact, she was not in Westminster at the time of his death and was informed of it while carrying out official duties elsewhere. Secondly, the film does not portray any other female MPs in Parliament. In fact, during Thatcher’s time in Parliament, the total number of female MPs was between 19 and 41. Lastly, the Labour Party leader Michael Foot is depicted as a critic of the decision to send a task force to the Falkland Islands, and Thatcher is shown admonishing him in the wake of Britain's victory over Argentina. In fact, Foot supported the decision to send a task force, something for which Thatcher expressed her appreciation.

Phyllida Lloyd has made a disappointingly conventional and sluggish film in The Iron Lady. It benefits from a lively lead performance by the talented Meryl Streep, but doesn't come within light years of the actual truth, one of the greatest political stories of human history. Lloyd sketches Thatcher's life as depressing, if by the numbers. Ultimately, she falls victim to the danger of movie biography: she elevates Thatcher's importance until the vital historical context is obscured.

Simon says The Iron Lady receives:

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