Never One to Compromise

The Iron Lady

Director: Phyllida Law

Cast: Meryl Streep, Alexandra Roach, Jim Broadbent, John Sessions, Julian Wadham, Nicholas Farell, Olivia Colman, Richard E. Grant

The first moment Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Kramer vs Kramer, Sophie’s Choice) appears on screen as Baroness Thatcher in Phyllida Law’s The Iron Lady, the viewer knows that they will be treated to a towering portrayal of one of the most influential and controversial leaders of the Western World in the 20th century former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady, which chronicles Baroness Thatcher grappling with her old age and the loss of her beloved husband Dennis, played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) depicts an elderly  and at times not so iron lady looking back on a landmark and eventful political career.

Streep’s performance of the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both as an old woman and as a ruthless and powerful Conservative politician is outstanding and is worthy of Streep being one of the few actresses to win three Oscars in an impressively brilliant and diverse career spanning from such earlier films as Kramer vs Kramer and The Deer Hunter, through to Sophie’s Choice, Ironweeds and Out of Africa to the more recent performances in Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada.

The Iron Lady is as much about the making of a politician, the sculpting of a prolific and charismatic female leader as Prime Minister of Britain that Margaret Thatcher was during the tumultuous 1980s, as a testament to an aging woman who cannot deal with approaching senility and the fact that her once great career is drawing to a gradual close. Meryl Streep, helped with superb make-up by the Oscar winning team of J. Roy Helland and Mark Coulier portrays all the nuances  and strength of a unrelentingly headstrong politician, along with all the subtle  insecurities of breaking all the initial conventions of being the first female leader of Parliament in the cut-throat male dominated world of British politics while sacrificing her family life and domestic duties to achieve her political ambitions.

Whilst The Iron Lady does not sequentially follow Thatcher’s political career in the 1980s, it is portrayed through a series of perfectly crafted flashbacks showing the flashpoints in Margaret Thatcher’s political career from the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton at the 1984 Conservative Party conference to the Falklands War and also the eventual ousting of Thatcher as leader by her own party at the height of Britain’s participation in ending the Cold War.

Phyllida Law, director of Mamma Mia, shows a slightly parodic view of Margaret Thatcher beautifully portrayed by Streep as well as thematically points to the personal dilemma of all great leaders, that of having made your mark on history and now having to deal with the greatest challenge of all, old age and dealing with one’s own mortality.

Unlike Stephen Frears superbly directed film The Queen which also dealt with a living icon, the British Monarch an Oscar winning performance by Helen Mirren, focusing on a specific period of British history, the death of Lady Diana; The Iron Lady is more fluid in its narrative, depicting Baroness Thatcher in the 21st century reminiscing about her prominent political career three decades earlier, in which as Prime Minister she was never one to compromise. Whilst The Iron Lady as a film is not superb and flawed in narrative and direction, it is Meryl Streep’s unbelievably brilliant portrayal which makes up for any cinematic defects.

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