March 24, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 36°F


Triumphant acting barely saves story

Gripping visuals and star power prevent “The Iron Lady” from hitting rock bottom, but the political drama’s narrative is nowhere near as dynamic as its featured leading lady.
The film, which is a biopic based on John Campbell’s biography of the same title, illustrates the life and times of controversial former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep).
In the film, a senile, hallucinating Thatcher argues about her career with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who died eight years prior. Thatcher questions her sanity as she continues to reminisce with her late husband and the film flashes back to memories of Thatcher’s early life.
The story of young Margaret Roberts (Alexandra Roach) begins  with her childhood as a grocer’s daughter. It flashes forward to early forays into party politics and the marriage proposal of pleasant, boyishly attractive Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd).
The charmingly awkward Roach shines in her determination as the maturing politician. She shows the development of strong conservative views and inexorable ambition that ultimately help develop Thatcher, one of the most iconic female leaders of the western world. After showing Thatcher’s first day in Parliament, the film skips decades ahead.
Streep skillfully portrays the powerful woman as she ascends to the Prime Minister position. Her excellence spans from the speech training for Thatcher’s campaign to the strength of her statement “But I am the Prime Minister!” right before the Conservative Party forces the end of her term. The woman who was beloved and hated by her constituents emerges in these scenes.
Director Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed “Mamma Mia!,” proves with her sophomore film effort that her style is worth watching. Tense cabinet meetings and Parliament sessions, which are skillfully acted and filmed, bring ensemble power to a few scenes. The television footage of real-life protests from the era adds reality to the film. She does not stray far from convention, but the film is still fresh and visually captivating during a particularly dull moment in aged Thatcher’s story.
It is impossible for either of screenwriter Abi Morgan’s plot lines to achieve their potential with a film that only lasts 105 minutes. The flashback portion consistently focuses only on moments important to Thatcher’s climb to power, eliminating possible subplots. This nonfiction panorama of her life is the stronger half, but it gets sped through because of Morgan’s lacking attempt at exploring elderly Thatcher’s mental state. The fictional hallucinations in this plot line only squander Streep’s craft.
“The Iron Lady” promises drama comparable to Thatcher’s time in office. The acting and appearance of the film hit a good spot, but the organization of the narrative renders it far less sturdy than the unstoppable Prime Minister.

“The Iron Lady” was directed by Phyllida Lloyd and written by Abi Morgan.