At this point, saying, "Meryl Streep was good in it," is a given, so we can just discuss the rest of the movie without having to mention that, or the fact that she is firmly entrenched in the awards race. Okay. Now that we've settled that, what else is there to talk about? (cricket chirp) Well, The Iron Lady as a whole does less to impress than its stars, although it's not for lack of trying. It's told from a surprising perspective and reasserts that we may have come a long way, but it's near impossible to discuss a person's politics without adding context. Here, it's all about having two X chromosomes and a complete inability to sit still and let the world turn on its own, but it ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
For the price of admission, you get a quickie history lesson about one of history's most controversial politicians, complete with her Policymaking Greatest Hits and Personal Life Milestones. You don't have to know anything about Thatcher to figure out that she was one of the few conservative women in British government, and no one ever let her forget it. Streep has said that she was intrigued by playing the character because she was surprised by all the hatred for her demeanor that earned her the famous nickname. Streep's goal was to find the humanity in the role, but the movie is too simplistic to give her the material to do so. It's her ability to become someone else entirely that pulls the audience in, not the writing.
One of the more interesting choices the filmmakers made was to frame the movie around a modern day Thatcher, whose age and stubbornness have reduced her to just another item on her children's To Do list. Now I don't know about you guys, but if they make a biopic about me when I am close to 90 years old and still alive like Thatcher is, I hope I am coherent enough to be mad that they're depicting me as a crazy old lady who sees things and talks to ghosts. On one hand, seeing the controversial figure in her twilight years brings a kind of gravitas to the tale of a highly influential life--we all get old, no matter how much we effect change around us. But on the other, it almost robs her of credibility in the same way her detractors always tried to. This makes me wonder if the movie is really being all that reverent.
The oversimplified script mostly consists of vignettes about what it was like for a woman to make difficult decisions while fending off the slings and arrows of the overwhelmingly male majority. An unfortunate coincidence is that in the film, men complain she "doth screech too much," and in real life, Thatcher's cabinet member Norman Tebbit, says that Streep's portrayal of her is "half-hysterical." I am disappointed that reactions to women who are putting themselves out there is usually reduced to clichéd gender-based criticisms, but that's probably part of what fueled Thatcher's fire. We see plenty of her snapping at people, which the movie says led to her political demise, but it feels more empty than it should. It isn't a movie about policy, it's about a woman who could not bear the thought of sitting still and doing nothing for her country--but you can't really tell by watching it.