When Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, it's a no-brainer that you're going to wind up loving Julia Child. When Meryl Streep plays Anna Wintor/Not Anna Wintour, you wind up admiring/pitying/secretly-loving Anna Wintour. It's all easy enough to swallow.
But who loves Margaret Thatcher?
And don't be mistaken, love is what any fuzzy, let's-try-to-understand-the-controversial-person biopic is always aiming for. It's also a given that the cuddlier version is the only choice you're left with when your film is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who seems almost contractually obligated to court middle-aged audiences and Academy Awards voters, and whose previous movie was the blisteringly realistic political drama, Mamma Mia! So we get to start the film with Streep in old-age makeup playing a somewhat doddering, adorable Thatcher who spends a lot of time hallucinating about her late husband (Jim Broadbent, a ghost who likes too much butter on his toast). Then we get to see young, idealistic Thatcher (played by Alexandra Roach) as she climbs her proto-feminist way into the male-dominated political world. Finally, we get what we came for, as Streep takes over again and climbs into the stone-cold, "Because I said so" Prime Minister Thatcher was, the strict, harsh counterpoint to Ronald Reagan's grandfatherly authoritarianism.
Whatever this version of reality's Thatcher did, she did for for the good of the country, even if it meant slashing programs for the poor, breaking the backs of miner's unions, sending troops off to die for the Falkland Islands or putting more and more power into the hands of the financial sector. If you didn't recognize that then you were a whiner or lazy or too simple to know what was in your best interest. Weirder, the movie itself doesn't even seem to care that much about history, how Thatcher helped shape it, or how she'll be viewed by generations to come. Some critical voices rise but they're quickly dismissed by the woman herself, who reminds the audience that she's not out of touch because she knows how much groceries cost. What the movie really cares about is Streep delivering a freakishly entertaining impersonation.
And she does. Watching her put on all those blue clothes and sternly browbeat her way into dominance is like walking into the "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" room at Disneyland. You can be the leftiest of liberals and still feel like cheering her on as she steamrolls everything you hold to be true just outside the theater exit. That's her superpower, always managing to be the biggest, showiest person on camera in just about any movie she chooses to grace. Do you even remember who else was in Mamma Mia! besides tone deaf Pierce Brosnan? No, you don't. You just remember Streep belting out ABBA songs with all her sad heart. There's no room for anyone else.
So don't come to this looking for history. Don't come to it looking for whoever the "real" Margaret Thatcher is or was. Don't come to it looking for justification for your own world-view. Come to bask in the glow of Meryl Streep's skillful, frequently mechanical chameleonism. That's what you love about her. Next up she'll probably star in a science fiction version of Ann Coulter's life in the year 2050. You'll leave that one thinking she was misunderstood, too.