The indelible Meryl Streep graces the silver screen with yet another transformative performance as British PM Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady. Powerful, sinister, emotional, and altogether disarming, Streep has once again proven that she is without a doubt the most talented actor of her generation.
Told in a stream of consciousness narrative, Ms. Lloyd brings us to Margaret after she has retired from public service, after her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) has died, and just as Alzheimer’s disease begins to creep in on her. Through a series of flashbacks, hallucinations, and fond recollections, we may see a glimpse into the impressive career of one of the most polarizing figures to ever grace British politics.
One of the most impressive aspects about Lloyd’s ambitious film is that it subscribes to none of the formulaic properties of the countless other popularized biopics, such as The King’s Speech, J. Edgar and Ray. The Iron Lady’s form is deeply explorative, and plays with the difficult, often cheesy conventions of hallucination. Streep, a battle-axe of classical training, form, and hard work, makes the risky plot structure move effortlessly through the years and through Ms. Thatcher’s unreconciled recollections.
To say that Streep’s portrayal of Thatcher is impressive is perhaps one of the worst understatements of the year. In all performances Streep, she is able to so astutely and uncannily channel in her performance, that it migrates quickly from impression to complete possession. Taking Thatcher from age 30 to 80, Streep so completely inhabits Thatcher’s every twitch, purse of the lips, and twinge of the voice. She is devastatingly effective at leading the character convincingly through a throw down verbal bludgeoning in parliament, to squabbling with her teenaged daughter Carol (Olivia Colman), to eating hard-boiled eggs and toast with the apparition of her late husband. Only Streep could take such a frosty, at times dismissive figure and humanize her to the point of no return.
Streep is well matched on-screen, most notably by Jim Broadbent who does excellent, cooky, and charming work as Margaret’s husband, both in hallucination and true life. His whimsical spirit, so disarming and incredibly unsettling, mixes richly with Ms. Streep’s acting gusto and helps to humanize the lady of iron.
Similarly, Alexandra Roach is a worthy counterpart to Ms. Streep, as she takes on Margaret Thatcher in her early years. She captures the accent, the determination, and the keen stubbornness of the grocer’s daughter with lofty ambitious for public service. Although Streep’s ferociousness is unmatched in Roach’s work, the young actress’s timidness works well with this naive, unsure young version of Ms. Thatcher.
However, as sensational as Streep and her worthy cast are, she cannot entirely make up for a somewhat lacklustre screenplay that does much to chronicle Thatcher’s life and political accomplishments, but little to evoke the true essence of her being. For a woman who said “I owe nothing to woman’s lib”, no side of her often contradictory existence of a woman politician surrounded by men, pushing for pearls, Christian and conservative values, but not for sex equality is explored. We are never truly introduced to the root of the conundrum that stirred one part of the nation, while entirely angering the next.
As far as its Oscar future goes, I don’t want to jinx it, but I really think this could finally be Meryl’s year. It’s been just shy of 30 years since Meryl collected her last Oscar, a Best Actress statuette for her outstanding work in Sophie’s Choice. She’s had 12 nominations in between, and no take home. I’d say, it’s about fucking time.
What did you think of The Iron Lady? Do you think this could finally be Streep’s year for the Oscar? Leave it all in the comment section.