“The Iron Lady” is a magnificent film starring Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep in her next Academy Award-winning role as the legendary British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This time Streep joins director Phyllida Lloyd again, after her work with the famed director in “Mamma Mia!” The 80-plus0year-old Thatcher is portrayed as a powerful, steely figure, who once growing older, was unsuited for the current state of affairs that exist in Britain and around the world today. However, in Britain, like in the United States, the fact that Thatcher is the daughter of a grocer, not a Blue Blood, she spent her entire life proving herself to unworthy men in power that she was just as powerful and brilliant as they were, and in her case, a lot more. So is Meryl Streep in this uncanny role, which will bring love for the actress as well as the iconic political leader she portrays.
The film transcends and goes through 60-some years (Thatcher is played by Alexandra Roach as the teenage daughter of a small-town grocer through her first election to public office), and Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan elide grand swaths of Thatcher’s life, from her pre-political career in chemistry to her friendship with and political support of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In each portrayal of a segment in Thatcher’s life, each actress does an incredible job, but it’s the tremendous work of Meryl Streep that shines the brightest in this film.
Though not a total biopic, the film does take some liberties and does so to create more intriguing situations than Thatcher would have dealt with in real life. The truth is, she long ago gave up the dream of being admired, and managed to become the most respected Prime Minister since Winston Churchill, and alongside President Ronald Reagan and even Pope John Paul, was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union’s evil empire, and in some of the scenes, you get the feeling it is she who is the dominant personality and true genius over her more famous male counterparts.
At (presumably) the end of her life, Thatcher’s struggle is not how to reconcile all she wrought on the world-historical stage, but to come to terms with how to get through the day without Denis by her side. This is one of those times that the film had to maneuver a bit more outside of reality, to make Thatcher a human-like figure, since the legend lives very large even 25 years from the time she was in the prime of her political life.
Throughout most of the film, the personal drama and intimate side of Thatcher is played out over political drama. Thatcher’s transformation into a viable candidate for prime minister is presented as a literal makeover, from the country-bumpkin-ish girl who has to learn to talk differently and do her hair more sophisticated in order to make it in the big city. From British Parliament, you realize that Thatcher was a smarter and understood more than the men in the same position she finds herself in. Unlike any other woman in the 20th century, she decided to not hide it, and it was a turnoff for many, and to this day, she’s still not appreciated for being just as ingenious as Churchill and most certainly over her successor Tony Blair.
I love in the film when Margaret Thatcher’s military credentials are challenged on the eve of the Falklands War, she haughtily declares, “I’ve been doing battle every day of my life” — as if the tools she has accumulated to deal with workplace discrimination have anything to do with battlefield strategy. This film will do more for young women and learning how hard women had to work to get where Ms. Thatcher achieved, because not only did she get disdain from men, but from right-wing-styled women who secretly envy the power of real feminine power, perhaps because of their lack of courage to fight and achieve what Margaret Thatcher and other women like her achieved without using prissy and subservient ways to make men like them. Thatcher wanted respect, not pity or to be adored, and Meryl Streep takes no prisoners in this tremendous performance, which proves to me, that Bette Davis was right 40 years ago, when she proclaimed that Meryl Streep would become her equal.
Streep builds up to those famous forceful speeches, that Margaret Thatcher became known for, and hated for, as well as feared. The film attempts to present the historical record through aged Thatcher’s stream of consciousness, and although many reviewers and critics hate this. I believe it offers insight not into Margaret Thatcher’s mind and inner workings, but it allows a woman (Meryl Streep) to offer her obvious respect and to pay homage to a legend in our own era. Streep tells Highlight Hollywood, “I never met her in person. My daughter and I went to a speech she gave many years ago, and I remember the guy came on stage and said in his stern voice, Ms. Thatcher will speak for only 30 minutes. Tommy, 90 minutes later this woman was still going strong. And I knew right at that moment, no man is going to decide anything for her. I think that it really spoke volumes about the ‘Iron Lady,’ herself.”
The film is relentlessly powerful and empowering. Meryl Streep is my choice for the Best Lead Actress Academy Award at the end of February. Ballots just went out, and I can hardly wait to help lobby for yet another Weinstein film, and Meryl Streep is an obvious nomination this time around. “The Iron Lady” receives Five of Five Stars from this reviewer. This is movie-making at its best. It teaches, it empowers, it pays homage; but most of all, it educates and entertains.
Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: Weinstein Company
Follow us on Twitter @HighlightHlwd; @HighlightHwd or @LightfootinHwd