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Iron Lady, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A.K.A. The Other, Lesser Margaret"
1 stars

Regardless of whether you love or loathe everything that she stood for during her time as one of the most powerful and controversial women in world history, it cannot be denied that the life of Margaret Thatcher, who rose from being the daughter of a simple grocer to serving as Prime Minister of England for an unprecedented three-term reign, would seem to be a foolproof subject for a movie. From challenging the rules of what was expected of women in politics to bitterly dividing her country with her often-divisive actions to launching a war with Argentina over an insignificant piece of land, it would seem almost impossible to make a film of her life that wasn't interesting on at least some basic level. And yet, the silly piece of exceptionally rancid Oscar bait known as "The Iron Lady" manages to achieve the near-impossible by reducing Thatcher's inherently fascinating story into so much piffle that it makes "Evita" look like a masterpiece of complexity on the level of Robert Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson by comparison.

Perhaps realizing that Thatcher's personal and professional lives were too much to deal with satisfactorily within the confines of a conventional running time, screenwriter Abi Morgan has instead chosen to take a more impressionistic route that centers on key events in her career. After the requisite number of scenes showing her growing up amidst the turmoil of wartime London, the first major section deals with Thatcher (played, as you may have heard by now, by Meryl Streep) as she first dips her toes into politics and eventually gets elected to Parliament in 1959. After making a name for herself for her hard-line attitudes against striking teachers and garbage workers, she becomes a rising star in conservative politics and although image consultants despair of being able to sell her to the masses, she eventually becomes elected Prime Minister in 1979. The next major section deals with the squabble over the Falkland Islands, a piece of land that had been the center of a dispute with Argentina for nearly 150 years before she, against the recommendation of her advisors, declared war to settle the matter once and for all in a skirmish in which hundreds gave their lives over the geopolitical equivalent of a tiff. The last section deals with her institution of a poll tax in 1989 that was theoretically designed to help fund the government but which proved to be deeply unpopular because of the way it shifted the burden of taxation from the wealthy to the more impoverished--despite widespread protests and riots, she stood by this decision and it eventually led to her resigning from office in 1990 rather than face a challenge for leadership of the Conservative party that would have almost assuredly led to her defeat.

All of this sounds interesting but Morgan and director Phyllida Lloyd, whose previous credit was the borderline unwatchable screen adaptation of the ABBA musical "Mama Mia," manages to pretty much make a mess of it throughout--exactly the kind of incisive political biography that one might expect from the auteur of "Mama Mia." One of the chief problems is the insipid decision to surround the action with a modern-day framing device that finds an increasingly senile Thatcher doddering around her house, escaping to go to the local market (where she goes completely unrecognized) and engaging in conversations with the ghost of her dead husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), that set up the numerous flashbacks that make up the majority of the story. To start with, the framing device is utterly insipid--a cheap and lazy screenwriting gambit that awkwardly stitches the events together without making any real effort and does an exceptional disservice to Thatcher by reducing her to a doddering bore who just misses her fella in a misguided effort to make her seem more relatable to audiences that might otherwise recoil at the sight of an unabashedly power-hungry woman.

As for the rest, the notion of eschewing a straightforward narrative style for a more impressionistic approach is not a bad one in theory but it is done in here because of two key problems. The first is that while the film serves up plenty of facts about Thatcher and her achievements, it offers no opinions or ideas about them that would force viewers to confront and/or challenge their preconceived notions about her--a remarkably chickenshit take I suspect even Thatcher herself, a woman who was never one to shy away from a good argument, would take issue with if she ever sat down to watch it. The second is that in order to pull off this kind of approach, a film requires a director who possesses the kind of bold cinematic style that would do it justice--Oliver Stone in his prime, for example, might have come up with something along the lines of his fascinating and underrated "Nixon"--and Phyllida Lloyd is simply not that kind of filmmaker. This is a film that requires an adventurous test pilot at the helm but Lloyd is strictly a commercial pilot at best and one who has trouble sticking the landing, take-off and everything in between.

Even the one seemingly foolproof aspect of "The Iron Lady"--the central performance from Meryl Streep--turns out to be seriously lacking as well. As an impersonation of Margaret Thatcher, it is admittedly good--she has the look and sound of her down pretty well--but all it is in the end is just an imitation instead of a performance. Like the film as a whole, she never allows us beneath the surface to see Thatcher as a real person in the way that, to give the most obvious current example, Michelle Williams does in her fairly stunning and soulful turn as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn." In that film, Williams gave us a great impression of another one of the world's most famous women but also offered a genuine glimpse of the woman behind the headlines. By comparison, Streep gets the basics but her performance beyond that is just as tone-deaf and filled with histrionics as the film itself--instead of a cohesive whole, her performance feels like a string of exceptionally blatant Oscar clips.

Because it has been hyped for so long, there is little doubt that she will indeed get nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and there is even a pretty good chance that she will take home the prize for the first time in nearly 30 years--this is precisely the kind of shallow, hammy turn that the voters inexplicably dote on. However, when put up against the achievements of the likes of Williams, Keira Knightley, Anna Paquin or any number of other performers in this unusually strong year for actresses, I suspect that even Streep herself would find her work to be lacking by comparison and recognize that while the film and her character may be known as "The Iron Lady," both have been approached with a tin ear.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22585&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/12/12 22:32:23
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User Comments

7/07/12 Ubaldo Rodriguez Something that is very relevant now with this good for nothing president we have. 5 stars
3/17/12 W. Crewe Is this a critique of the film or one guy's stupid rant? 5 stars
1/13/12 D lee Rubbish review 5 stars
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  30-Dec-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Apr-2012


  DVD: 10-Apr-2012

Directed by
  Phyllida Lloyd

Written by
  Abi Morgan

  Meryl Streep
  Jim Broadbent
  Anthony Head
  Richard E. Grant
  Roger Allam
  Susan Brown

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