Tuesday, May 29, 2012

movie review THE IRON LADY

Is there anything that Meryl Streep can't do?   After showing us what she is capable of in dramas, comedies and even musicals I was about to think the only thing left for her to take on would be to play a man.  But then I realized she already did that when she played a male rabbi in the tv version of Angels in America.  She recently took on the role of Margaret Thatcher in the film The Iron Lady which earned her a third Oscar and her 17th Academy Award nomination. 

The Iron Lady is a pretty good film that shows Thatcher's rise to fame and all of the controversy she created with the decisions she made while she was in power.  While the film touches upon the key points in Thatcher's career, it really isn't a typical docu-drama but is really more like a memory play with the older Thatcher looking back upon her past and the various decisions she made.   The fact that this is all surrounded and continually interrupted by the older Thatcher having what appear to be dementia based hallucinations that include her dead husband being present and his comments on her memories, her past decisions and their children, makes The Iron Lady rise above many other linear driven biographic films.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
Jim Broadbent provides another quirky character to his long list of work as Margaret's husband.  Streep and Broadbent together are simply splendid in their ability to make you feel the love the two of there characters have, warts and all, and in this relationship and everything they went through, it seems there were plenty of warts. 

Director Phyllida Lloyd provides a steady hand to the events and expertly manages the flashbacks, confusion and her direction of Streep, though I'm sure Steep needs little direction.  She and Streep previously worked together on the film of Mamma Mia, which was Lloyd's film directorial debut, she also directed the London, Broadway and National tour productions of that show.  The Iron Lady is a completely different film and thus makes a fine follow-up to the popcorn fun of Mamma Mia and should provide plenty of future feature directing opportunities for Lloyd.

I really like how the film shows how powerful people can become powerless as they get older.  This brought up comparisons to Ronald Regan's later years as he fought Alzheimer's.  While the film does focus on the key moments in Thatcher's career including the miners strike, the Falkland Islands war, the Irish National Liberation Army assassination of her campaign manager and the hotel bombing where she and her husband were almost killed, the film is really the story of how dementia and old age impacts a person.  And when the person was formerly in a powerful position like Thatcher the downfall of dementia can be an all encompassing sense of powerlessness.

Broadbent and Streep
The film doesn't really take a stand on Thatcher and her politics, instead showing the good parts and bad of her 11 year run as Prime Minister.  In fact, someone who knew nothing about Thatcher would basically see a story of a woman and the personal, political and public obstacles that got in her way.  I was fine with how it showed the personal impact of a public life and the impact it has on your family and less concerned that the filmmakers didn't take a stand about her politics.

I liked how we saw the strained and very distant relationship she has with her children, possibly somewhat due to the poor relationship she had with her own mother as well as her focus on power. I also appreciated the focus on Thatcher's view that being in public office is more about what you can do for the public and less about what you can do for your own career.  A point not shared by many politicians world wide who seem to be more focused on doing and saying what they need to in order to further their own careers.  Of course for Thatcher once she got a taste of the power the drive for more of that continual power seemed to be just as important to her as her belief that she was doing what was right for the public.

I also liked a line of dialogue that the ghost of her husband has when Margaret is watching videos of her young children.  He basically tells her, when she accidentally rewinds the video,  "You can rewind the past but you can't rewrite it."  A comment so true for anyone looking back at their life and even more so for someone in power who might thing some of their decisions were now possibly not the correct ones. 

Streep as the 80 year old Thatcher
And while Thatcher is portrayed as an uncompromising person, she is often referred to several times as a grocery store owner's daughter.   She herself says that she would never be a wife who stays in the kitchen doing the dishes.  Both of these references come into play in the scenes that bookend the film.  In the opening scene, we are in a modern day corner grocery store and, ironically, when Margaret goes to buy a pint of milk no one recognizes her.  I particularly liked this portrayal of a well known person who used to have all of the power now not being recognized anymore.  But I especially liked the ironic ending of the film that refers back to the person she said she would never be.
Much has been written about the uncanny resemblance of Streep to Thatcher that the Academy Award winning make up designers Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland created.  But what amazed me most wasn't the makeup, hair or accent but actually Streep's body movement as both the younger and especially the older Thatcher.  Just watch the opening sequence when she is walking down the street or when she is getting dressed for the dinner party and you don't see a 60 year old Streep but an 80 year old Thatcher.  And even when she is sitting still so much is said through Meryl's eye movements. It is a towering performance and one well deserving of the Oscar.

trailer for the film:

Streep talking about her portrayal of Thatcher:

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