A film that seems to wish it were more, The Iron Lady is only as good as it is thanks to Meryl Streep’s incredible performance. Without much argument most people would come to the agreement that she is the greatest American actress still active, and her performance here is no less than the brilliance we have come to expect from her. Streep has the unique talent not only to vividly play a large variety of roles, but also to bring a mixture of both charm and sting to characters. Her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is probably the best imitation yet, and without her performance the film would lack almost all of the power it holds.
The screenplay by Abi Morgan misses out so much that could be told of Thatcher’s life, and the story jumps around so much that it skips many of the most important moments of her life. The audience isn’t allowed to get a sense of whom she was and what she had to do to become Prime Minister; instead far too much time is spent on her hallucinations of her late husband. If this is the story the film wanted to tell, it could have done it better, and if The Iron Lady is supposed to encapsulate most of a woman’s life and achievements- sadly, it fails. The story is a great one, but it isn’t told well in this film.
Director Phylidda Lloyd is also partially responsible for the film’s inability to give audiences the best version of the story. She doesn’t seem to know how to utilize the talent provided for her and the fact that the actors commit to their roles and present them strongly is what holds the movie together. Meryl Streep is terrific in bringing as much depth to the character as possible and to drive the film forward. Lloyd’s history in theater is clear as she allows actors the freedom to perform lines directly in front of the camera, this works to the benefit of expressing Streep’s performance, but hinders the development of the characters and of the storyline.
For those who don’t know the story of Margaret Thatcher, she was the young daughter of a shopkeeper who rose to become the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Thatcher led the conservative party and was elected Prime Minister in 1979, leading the country until 1990. During this time she introduced a number of conservative political and economic initiatives, as well as famously involving Britain in the Falklands War in 1982. Many elements of her life are mentioned in this film, but little depth is given to several key events.
Overall, The Iron Lady is in itself not a terrible film, but it could have been so much more if a few things had gone differently. The story and screenplay jump around too much and little focus is placed on developing a sense of character. The director doesn’t seem to have a firm hold on their material and doesn’t effectively use all of the talent at her disposal. However, Meryl Streep’s performance is so strong that it manages to lift the film to a level which is at least slightly more deserving of a tale telling the life of Margaret Thatcher and Streep deserved the Oscar she won for this film.