An inept The Iron Lady exists solely for Streep. 

Except for some specific facts of its existence — a Margaret Thatcher biopic starring Meryl Streep and produced by the Weinsteins — The Iron Lady would be straight-to-video. It's a horrid mess, one of the worst-made movies I can remember. But due to its pedigree, it will garner at least one Academy Award nomination (for Streep) and, hell, maybe even a win. It's a great disservice to Oscar completists.

As directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!), The Iron Lady is overstuffed with cinematic histrionics: slow motion, speed-up, overdubs, crazy angles, precious framing, dramatic lighting ... anything to distract you from the fact that there's no there there.

The framing device of the film is former British prime minister Thatcher as an elderly woman: the lioness in winter haunted by hallucinations of her husband and crippling, unrelenting visions of past episodes. These scenes contribute the best of the film — the poignancy of the universality of aging, the great equalizer — and the worst — a screenplay structure that emphasizes a fractured, episodic narrative, the ruminations of a doddering dementia case (plus a broke-down vehicle for Jim Broadbent as Mr. Thatcher, his worst role and performance).

As written by Abi Morgan (Shame, BBC's The Hour), The Iron Lady unravels as an overdone, incoherent series of flashbacks. The Iron Lady is a life in montage.

The film flirts with interesting questions, asking if Thatcher's conservatism was a laudable principle or debilitating for its rigidity. In Britain in the late-1970s/early-'80s, a nation beset by economic turmoil, domestic strife, and war, Thatcher stays the course and incurs disapproval. And then, to the rescue, another montage: a decisive victory in the Falklands leads to economic boom, cheering crowds, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, a complicated decade simplified to 15 seconds.

The Iron Lady is essentially a docudrama, utilizing plenty of historical stock footage mixed in with original material. Newsreels of riots are cut with the pensive Streep sitting in the back of a car while a protester from central casting yells at her through the window. It feels like cheating.

The cumulative effect holds the audience at arm's length from the film's subject. The Iron Lady is constantly approaching Thatcher askew and never engages her for long. It's an accretion of glancing blows.

Her performance did allow me to finally pinpoint just what it is about Streep as an actress that leaves me cold: She's rarely less than good, but she's exhausting. Streep supplies more acting per square inch than anyone else on the planet. In some over-the-top roles — the boisterous Julia Child, the fictive Susan Orlean — it's appropriate and improves the cinematic whole. But Streep is never not acting, providing a stream of performance infills and placeholders until the next line of dialog or big emoting. This is not how (most) real humans behave, so her performances are always just that. Meryl Streep is an acting shark, constantly swimming to live.

The Iron Lady
Opening Friday, January 13th
Multiple locations

The Iron Lady
Rated PG-13 · 105 min. · 2011
Official Site:
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Abi Morgan
Producer: Damian Jones
Cast: Meryl Streep, Harry Lloyd, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Olivia Colman, Roger Allam, Alexandra Roach, Julian Wadham and Nick Dunning

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Iron Lady


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

    • Beauty and the Beast

      Emma Watson romances a man-buffalo in Disney’s sumptuous live action remake
    • Kong: Skull Island

      Five lessons from the ape-pocalyse
    • I Am Not Your Negro

      Raoul Peck’s documentary brings James Baldwin’s words to an America that needs to listen.


News Blog

Alexander to TVA: Don't Buy Wind Power

Intermission Impossible

Hattiloo Announces Season 12: August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Soul Train...

News Blog

Memphis Theological Seminary Stands with Refugees

News Blog

Fight Over Forrest Statue Isn't Over

Fly On The Wall Blog

Remembering the "Miracle Child" Robert Raiford

Memphis Gaydar

Bathroom Bill Halted in TN Legislature

News Blog

RIP Robert Raiford

News Blog

Memphis Pets of the Week (March 23-29)

News Blog

'Modern' Retail Center Coming to Midtown


More by Greg Akers

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation