The Iron Lady reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: The Iron Lady reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:27 pm

Hollywood Reporter

The Iron Lady: Film Review
7:00 PM PST 11/23/2011 by David Rooney
The Weinstein Company

The Bottom Line
Audiences looking for probing political drama might feel shortchanged, but the thoughtful depths and fine-grained details in Meryl Streep’s latest feat of superhuman portraiture are ample reward.

Meryl Streep gives a fully realized portrait of British Prime Minister Thatcher in a biopic that values character over context.

NEW YORK – Playing both the staunch human battleship and the diminished old woman sifting through her past, Meryl Streep is riveting in The Iron Lady. Her physical and verbal mimicry are uncanny, but her embodiment of an indomitable, uniquely British spirit perhaps even more so. The performance provides this engrossing if somewhat deferential biopic of Margaret Thatcher with a richly conflicted center that befits one of the most divisive figures in 20th century politics.

With less complexity or cleverness, the film follows in the footsteps of Stephen Frears’ 2006 The Queen, another intimate portrait of a British head of state. Scripted by Abi Morgan (Shame) and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady digs more incisively into character than context.

Just as Thatcher continues to have passionate champions and detractors more than two decades after the end of her eventful 11½-year tenure as U.K. Prime Minister, the film stands to split audiences. Some will likely admire its even-handedness while others may find its point of view timid and mollifying, shaped less by objective detachment than by the distorting lens of compassion.

It’s a standard and probably silly assumption that any release skewing toward the specialty end of the theatrical market will take a liberal position. That seems even more of a given when the subject is an archconservative who reshaped Britain and was a galvanizing force on the world political stage. But the film goes to considerable pains to fudge its point of view.

Whether you see this as a shrewd move or a cop-out, the filmmakers have played it both ways, allowing Thatcher to be read as either a towering leader or a bullying monster, depending on your politics. Accessing the central character as an enfeebled, lonely widow grappling with an unreliable memory is a sure way to blur the picture. That means fears among Tory prognosticators in Britain that this was going to be a hatchet job prove largely unfounded.

Instead, it’s a humanizing, at times touchingly sentimental drama, its most persuasive moments often outside the political arena. The keynote of vulnerability is struck from the opening scene in which Thatcher, in her 80s, alarms her security detail by tottering off unsupervised to the local shop for milk. Only after a boiled egg breakfast with her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) does it become clear that Margaret has been a widow for many years.

Those imagined conversations with the ghost of Dennis -- a chortling, playful old codger in Broadbent’s endearing performance -- establish a poignant us-and-them dynamic that ponders the solitary fog of old age. Streep is masterful at showing the internal battle between failing mental faculties and a refusal to relinquish dignity and command, yielding moments in which the confused elderly Thatcher appears convinced she is still the P.M. The mettle of her glory years resurfaces when the hallucinations of Dennis begin threatening her lucidity, prompting an attempt to banish him from her mind.

The framing action takes place around the time of the 2005 London terrorist attacks, and Morgan’s script deftly uses present-day triggers to summon flashbacks. These skip through Margaret’s youth as a grocer’s daughter (played with pluck and intelligence by Alexandra Roach), inheriting an early interest in politics from her father; her Oxford years and courtship by young businessman Dennis (Harry Lloyd); her determined first foot in the door of the boys’ club of conservative politics; and her 1959 entry into Parliament.

But the dramatic core is the rollercoaster of the 1980s, when Thatcher’s policies forged a new Britain out of financial deregulation, mass privatization, decreased public-service spending and the hobbling of the trade unions. With extensive use of news clips, the film touches on the widespread protests, the poll tax riots, the miners’ strike, the IRA bombings; it also alludes to soaring unemployment, the collapse in national industrial output and the widening gap between Britain’s new class of millionaires and its rapidly expanding poor.

But the real meat of that story is covered in such whirlwind fashion -- reducing Thatcher’s opposition to angry background rabble -- that the film sacrifices its big-picture impact. Thatcher’s quasi-romantic political kinship with Ronald Reagan is distilled to a quick visual of them waltzing at an official ceremony. Considering how widely financial pundits have connected the dots between policies of that era and the world’s current economic chaos, The Iron Lady seems coy in its reluctance to make harder-hitting, more provocative points. It’s not quite toothless, but definitely a soft-focus portrait.

While some of the key episodes have an unintended campy feel (a stone-faced Maggie growling “Sink it,” about the Belgrano during the 1982 Falklands Conflict), a handful of terrific scenes do provide insightful glimpses into those tumultuous years.

As trusted political advisers, Roger Allam and Nicholas Farrell are priceless as they groom Thatcher for the party leadership, diplomatically considering areas in need of a makeover. Richard E. Grant exudes twitchy antagonism as Michael Heseltine during a tense encounter when the ferment in Thatcher’s ranks becomes evident. And Streep’s magnificent fury is electrifying opposite the shocked humiliation of Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe (an excellent Anthony Head) during a sharp rebuke in a cabinet meeting that led to his resignation and precipitated her downfall.

A distinguished stage director, Lloyd’s first feature, Mamma Mia!, showed only a rudimentary grasp of filmmaking craft, not that anyone seemed to care. This time out, her work is far more polished. Cinematographer Elliott Davis strikes the right visual note of somber formality, while editor Justine Wright fluidly integrates contemporary scenes with flashbacks, archival footage and home movies. Thomas Newman’s score shifts effectively between minor-key moods and bombastic authority.

If Thatcher the politician remains a somewhat intransigent and monumental figure, Morgan’s script is perceptive in examining her as a woman claiming uncharted territory. “I have always preferred the company of men,” she remarks casually while entering a male-dominated dinner party. That statement reverberates in her fearlessness among lions, her impatience with weakness and even in the imbalance of her affections for her twin children. The grownup Carol (Olivia Colman) is a fussy, well-meaning presence treated by Margaret with fond cordiality, while the absence of her son Mark in South Africa is a source of piercing sorrow.

It’s in the pathos of the fragile 21st century figure rather the power of her former self that The Iron Lady impresses. And while it seems fair to quibble that the film’s approach makes the title something of a misnomer, Streep’s meticulously calibrated work gives it unexpected emotional resonance.
Last edited by Mister Tee on Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

Mister Tee
Posts: 6651
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC

The Iron Lady reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:24 pm


The Iron Lady
By Leslie Felperin

Meryl Streep stars as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady.'

About halfway through "The Iron Lady," in what will surely be the scene most often excerpted to illustrate its star's undeniable thesping chops, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher delivers a peevish rant about how she's always been more interested in ideas than in feelings. The same cannot be said of this fuzzy-headed biopic, which glosses over the former British prime minister's politics in favor of a glib, breakneck whirl around her career and marriage. The Weinstein Co. Stateside release is unlikely to win B.O. and acclaim on the level of "The King's Speech," but Streep's technically impeccable if slightly too comical perf should command attention.
While Blighty would appear to be "The Iron Lady's" most potentially remunerative territory, word of mouth could hurt it there; left-leaning auds in particular will chafe at what an easy ride the film gives its protagonist, still deeply reviled by many Brits. Pic may do proportionally better offshore (apart from Argentina, for obvious reasons), where Thatcher is remembered mostly for her standing as the Western world's first femme head of state, her mother-knows-best charisma and her iconic, matronly hairstyle, but not much else.

Employing a classic look-back-in-befuddlement structure, the script by Abi Morgan ("Shame") opens in the present with an aged, semi-senile Margaret Thatcher (Streep) having imaginary conversations with her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent, underscoring the pic's resemblance to "Iris," in which he also played the husband of a woman suffering from dementia). At the behest of her daughter, Carol (Olivia Colman, hilarious and touching by turns), Margaret prepares to dispose finally of Denis' old clothes, still hanging in the closet eight years after his death. As she does so, she remembers how she rose from humble origins as a Grantham grocer's daughter (played in flashbacks by newcomer Alexandra Roach, a dead ringer for Streep's Thatcher) to become prime minister for 11 consecutive years, from 1979-90.

Whereas recent fact-based films about British public figures such as "The Queen" and "The King's Speech" have focused primarily on key historical moments in their subject's lives, director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") here goes for an old-fashioned breadth-over-depth approach that would almost seem audaciously retro if it weren't so clunky and on-the-nose in the execution. Awkwardly expository flashbacks depict Margaret deciding, in chronological order, to stand for Parliament, challenge Edward Heath (John Sessions) for leadership of the Conservative party, send troops to defend the Falkland Islands, and eventually resign in the face of waning popularity.

Morgan's dialogue makes all kinds of unnatural contortions to allow Thatcher to call her cabinet members by their first names, so auds can work out that "Geoffrey" is meant to be onetime chancellor, then foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) and "Michael" is defense secretary Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant) -- both of whom register as little more than one-dimensional cameos with good wigs and latex prosthetics courtesy of hair and makeup designer Marese Langan.

The rest is montage, using thickly layered archival footage to cover Thatcher's remaining career highlights, such as the miners' strike of 1983, the mid-'80s financial-sector boom and the poll tax riots of 1990. Perhaps because the script attempts to cover such a massive amount of recent history, an antic sense of giddiness takes over, and it starts to become apparent that Lloyd and, to an extent, Streep are mostly playing it for laughs, or at best turning Thatcher's story into that of another plucky British femme underdog who defies the status quo.

Much is made of how Thatcher broke through the glass ceilings of gender and class on a personal level; rather less is said about how her policies disadvantaged the poor. Pic does underscore how Thatcher preferred the company of men and had scant sympathy for other women, even her own daughter: Her scenes with Carol rep the film's most persuasive emotional moments.

With a strong assist from personal hair and makeup designer J. Roy Helland, whose aging work is subtle yet expressive throughout, Streep turns in a compelling perf that just about merits its advance hype. Especially immaculate is her rendering of Thatcher's voice, which evolved over the years from a high-pitched screech (seen here derided in the House of Commons) to the more commanding, whisky-roughened contralto of her later days. But the film's mealymouthed stance toward its subject's politics undercuts Streep's efforts: There's neither room for her to be a tragic heroine nor latitude to make her an entirely comical figure, which would alienate the film's natural pro-Thatcher constituency.

Other tech credits are largely serviceable, although editing is often choppy and at times spatially incoherent; use of cantered angles is more distracting than stylish.

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