Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent. Written by Abi Morgan. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. PG. 105 min. Opens Jan. 13.
The Iron Lady is the latest biopic to try to humanize its controversial subject, which, in this case, means recasting Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power as the leader of England’s Conservative party as an affirmative tale of a woman making it in a man’s world. While that aspect of Thatcher’s story is certainly biopic-worthy, the severe economic violence she perpetrated is relegated to a few punk rock–scored montages of angry protestors. Instead, director Phyllida Lloyd places more emphasis on the contentious back-room politics that forced Thatcher to resign.
Yes, we’re given glimpses of her stubborn, obstinate personality and the effect it had on her governance, but it’s framed as a personal tragedy rather than in terms of what it did to her country. Lazily written by fraud-scribe of the year Abi Morgan (who also co-penned fellow Brit Steve McQueen’s dreadful Shame), The Iron Lady doesn’t have to be politically astute, or even dramatically coherent, since it’s really just an awards-season delivery device for Meryl Streep’s performance.
As impersonations go, Streep bests Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn; she gets a bigger assist from her makeup person, and inhabits Thatcher’s physical and vocal mannerisms with aplomb. But of course she does: She’s Meryl Streep, and accomplished dress-up acting is the bare minimum we should expect. At no point, though, does she make us think we’re watching anything more than an actorly stunt—which is partially because she has nobody interesting to play off.
She certainly gets no help from Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher, imagined here—no joke—as a jolly ghost tormenting his widow in her final days, popping up out of thin air while she’s trying to have a cup of tea. It’s a laughably hokey framing device that underlines the film’s general lack of seriousness. But let’s give the filmmakers credit where it’s due for exactly one good, intentionally funny joke. When Margaret gives driving lessons to her daughter, she makes a point of loudly insisting, “You have to veer to the right.” LOL, right?