The Iron Lady, doctor directed by Phyllida Lloyd and written by Abi Morgan, recipe is a biographical film about one of the most famous figures in the history of British politics, ailment former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The film takes place over three days, and is narrated through a series of flashbacks , depicting an elderly Thatcher remembering moments that shaped her and the effect her political life had on her, while clearing out her dead husband’s belongings. While most would go this film expecting an in depth look at the political side of Thatcher’s life, Abi Morgan’s script focuses more on Thatcher as a person with a more sweeping overlook at the major political events during her reign. While it is disappointing that there is not more focus given to her political life, Meryl Streep’s portrayal is astounding and the relationship between Thatcher and her husband, portrayed by Jim Broadbent, is one of the highlights of the film. But when you strip these two performances away you are left wondering what’s left. Not dwelling on the big events in the biography of her life feels like making a comedy without laughs or a horror with scares, it just doesn’t seem to work.
The problem with this film is that the only thing people will be talking about as they leave is Meryl Steep’s performance. It is an amazing portrayal by an actress at the top of her game but it leaves you with thoughts of what could have been with a different screenwriter or director. After all, Margaret Thatcher is one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. Yet the major political events dealt with in the film such as the Brighton bombing and the sinking of the Belgrano in the Faulkland’s War are more snapshots as the film flies by them. The political fallout of her positions – on everything from labour unions to coping with the Irish Republican Army- is for the most part overlooked, with more screen time devoted to the older, frail Thatcher. But this is not the way that people remember Margaret Thatcher and probably not the Thatcher they came to see. There are many that will not forgive her for things she did while in charge (the mines, the poll tax, etc…) just as there are those who still praise her strength and legendary refusal to compromise. Whatever way they lean, people already have an idea of who Margaret Thatcher is when they enter the cinema and this film does nothing to change any perceptions they may have had. All it really achieves (or captures) is to highlight Meryl Streep’s talent as one of the greatest actresses of our generation. She doesn’t just give a good impression of Thatcher but becomes almost a duplicate of her.
The Iron Lady wouldn’t be the first or last biographical film that tries to capture an entire lifetime and flops. But it is one of the poorer attempts. First of all, the term biographical film can only be loosely applied here. A large chunk of the film deals with Thatcher in the modern day as she talks to her dead husband and looks back on memories of the past while she clears out his things. The relationship between herself and her husband Denis (another great performance from Jim Broadbent) is a joy while it is on screen but that too is given too short an appearance due to the chronological arc. No time is given to develop any other characters to an extent where the audience cares about them.
In the last few years there have been so many great hard hitting political movies made – Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The King’s Speech – that make this portrayal of an old woman in crisis, as she looks back on brief memories of controversial confrontations and famous moment in her past that seems to fall very short.
It is no doubt that this film captures one of Streep’s finest ever performances and it might be worth going to see just for that but this films feels like a missed opportunity. It was fine for Morgan to decide to leave out the Thatcherism and to focus more on the woman and her relationships. But the relationships aren’t developed and showing us the fractured memories of her career only creates a sense of distraction from what she was hoping to achieve with the script. Leaving us in a sense a biographical film that leaves out key biographical information.