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The Iron Lady

A 2011 film directed by Phyllida Lloyd

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This IRON LADY Has Some Rust to Her

  • Jan 15, 2012
When I first heard about THE IRON LADY, I was eager to see the movie. I am a child of the 1980s and because of that I will always respect and admire Margaret Thatcher. As a kid, I remember seeing her on tv and listening to some of her speeches. I liked what I heard. She was the only current foreign leader I knew anything about until around fifth grade. As the first (and so far only) female Prime Minister of Great Britain, it wasn't until years later that I realized how extraordinary Thatcher's rise was. Her rise to the Prime Ministership is an incredible story that illustrates how freedom and determination can allow a person to rise above the position they were born into. It's a story that resonates particularly with women. Unfortunately, THE IRON LADY doesn't focus on that. Instead, it chooses to tell a story about Thatcher that revolves more around the spirit of the woman than the actual woman herself.

THE IRON LADY opens with a present-day Thatcher (circa 2009) patiently waiting in line at a grocery store to buy a pint of milk. This moment seems bizarre and almost absurd. Yet, its significance is revealed as the film unfolds. This trip to the grocery store reinforces to Thatcher's staff that she is slowly losing her mind; they see her as a poor elderly grandparent who can no longer be trusted to make her own decisions and live by herself. However, to Thatcher the simple act of buying a pint of milk is extremely important; it is one of the ways she has stayed connected to and in touch with the people she has served her whole life.

After that opening sequence, THE IRON LADY flashbacks to an earlier time in Thatcher's life. For me, this was one of the most disconcerting parts of the entire movie. Flashbacks serve a purpose, but they should be used sparingly. In THE IRON LADY, they are used on a regular basis throughout. I suppose one of the reasons for this is that the flashbacks echo memories Thatcher is recalling in the present at particular moments. This constant rewinding into the past and fastforwarding into the present augments the sensation in the audience that Thatcher is, perhaps, losing her mental faculties. This particular framing mechanism would be fine if it worked, but it doesn't. So, instead of empathizing with Thatcher, the audience is just left feeling nauseous and not really knowing why.

Amidst this constant flux and flow of memories, is Denis Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher's husband. In the film's present day, Denis has been deceased for several years. However, Thatcher sees him and sometimes has conversations with him. She tries to ignore him or drown his voice out, but no matter what she does, she can't get rid of him. Denis Thatcher is the catalyst for much of what happens in the THE IRON LADY. For instance, Thatcher's staff and daughter keep trying to get her to let go of her dead husband's belongings, but for most of the movie she is unable to do so. In her mind, getting rid of Denis's clothes and other belongs is like completely erasing Denis from her life. It's rather touching and quite romantic; a love between two people that is so strong that even in death it cannot be broken. However, this love story between a woman and her dead husband is also the greatest drawback of the movie.

Instead of being a story about the incredible life of Margaret Thatcher, THE IRON LADY is a love story about two regular people that revolves around the struggle of one of those people to keep their mental faculties. I can somewhat understand why the filmmaker chose to make THE IRON LADY this way because it seems to humanize Thatcher. But, in delineating Thatcher's story to the realm of romance and framing the story within the context of a woman struggling with her own sanity, THE IRON LADY turns Thatcher's life into just a movie about aging and mental health and not about Margaret Thatcher. I don't want to see ordinary Margaret Thatcher as a woman in love struggling with dementia. I watched THE IRON LADY because I wanted to see a movie about Margaret Thatcher, the impressive and formidable woman who became the first female Prime Minister of England, an inspiration for woman everywhere. I wanted to see the fiery Margaret Thatcher who helped tear down the Iron Curtain, took back the Falkland Islands, stopped England from becoming a debtor nation, and what made her tick. Instead, what I got was a love story between a dead husband and his wife and her struggle against dementia.

Despite the storytelling flaws, I did enjoy parts of THE IRON LADY because of the acting. Meryl Streep is uncanny as Thatcher; the mannerism and vocal inflections are nearly perfect. The resemblance between the actress and the Baroness is at times surreal. Jim Broadbent portrays Denis Thatcher and he makes a great foil to Streep's Thatcher. Also impressive are Alexandra Roach as the younger Thatcher and Harry Lloyd as the younger Denis Thatcher.

Overall, THE IRON LADY is an unremarkable movie about one extraordinary remarkable real-life woman. The movie is worth watching for the acting, but average filmgoers might be so turned off by the storytelling that they'll sleep through the fine performances. The film also offers something to those who like romances and to those with an interest in mental health.

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January 15, 2012
I heard that this was only worth seeing because of Streep's performance. I believe that they somewhat had to kind of make some steps to make it more mainstream, I suppose. Sad to hear that it wasn't more of a biopic. I could not guess why they would take its focus on the romance since that wasn't what made the person great. Nice informative review!
January 15, 2012
It could have easily been mainstream without the mental health issue involved at all. I wouldn't even had minded if it was a love story about her and Denis. However, the love story in the picture focuses more upon her and the "imagined" and deceased Denis Thatcher.
More The Iron Lady reviews
review by . April 18, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
A Quivering Bowl of Jello
Never saw this movie when it came to the big screen but saw it on the list for a cable channel last week so I thought I would watch it.  As Margaret Thatcher just died, I wondered if this movie would be a tribute to the one of the longer tenured PM's of Britain and the first female PM. Was I in for a shock!      The great actress, Meryl Streep, visually portrayed the lady well with the assistance of the superb make up artists and hair stylists and the sets were wonderful. …
review by . January 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I thought Viola Davis had the Oscar race all to herself and was guaranteed to win for her role in The Help, until I saw Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. Of course its expected for Streep to be amazing in any movie, but I did not think anyone would take the Oscar from Viola Davis this year. And I was wrong. Meryl's completed dominance of this film is beyond amazing. I sat spellbound watching her. I came home and read some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and was surprised at the reaction to the film. …
review by . January 09, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
The Streep Show
THE IRON LADY Written by Abi Morgan Directed by Phyllida Lloyd Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Alexandra Roach   Margaret Thatcher: It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.   In 2009, Margaret Thatcher attended the unveiling of her own portrait as British Prime Minister, held at her former office, London’s 10 Downing Street. Phyllida Lloyd’s THE IRON LADY supposes it knows Thatcher’s frame of mind in the time …
review by . April 12, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Streep is great
Meryl Streep stars in this bio pic of Margaret Thatcher as the elderly lady, suffering from dementia, remembers key moments of her past. We see young Margaret, a grocer’s daughter, in her first political campaign, when she meets her beloved husband (later played by Jim Broadbent), and her eleven years as Prime Minister with its struggles and triumphs; but mostly, we see her deteriorating health and increasing frailty.      I was absolutely stunned by Streep’s impersonation …
review by . December 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Mark my words: Meryl Streep’s work in The Iron Lady will earn her an Oscar nomination. But don’t make the mistake of believing it was preordained, stemming solely from the idea that it’s fashionable to nominate her. It will happen because, true to her chameleon-like ability to virtually disappear into any role, she truly does give one of the year’s best performances as Margaret Thatcher, who made history in 1979 by becoming …
Quick Tip by . May 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Again, I watched it on the plane. The Iron Lady the movie portrays the world of Margaret Thatcher after she was ousted by her party and her early rise to power. This is the first woman leader in the developed countries and her beliefs about what a man/woman can do for his/her country. She's both a legend and a legacy.
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