Meryl Streep’s Academy Award winning portrait of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady enables her to sit on a higher pedestal than ever before. It’s a delectable study in vicariously entering her subject’s decidedly power-packed, incisive nature as an administrator. Streep’s performance has enviable command throughout whereas the film’s vision falters quite a bit in maintaining its own consistency.
Director Phyllida Lloyd obviously then has a trick up her sleeve: that is to cover her 90 minute, Abi Morgan penned screenplay with all the landmark feats that dotted Thatcher’s illustrious career and her transformation from her humble beginnings to an international icon. Lloyd introduces her as a senior citizen going through the motions of her retired, post premiership glory and under the pall of dementia, conversing with the make-believe spectre of her long deceased husband (Jim Broadbent). In a startling scene of profound clarity, she evenly tempers her physical frailties with an iron-clad resolve, putting a premium on her thoughts rather than feelings when enquired about the same by her doctor. Her signature steely countenance and regal articulation nails the nuances of her graph. But barring this particular flash of genius, the initial exposition is too moodily paced to arouse collective interest. On the upside, it upgrades an otherwise inaccessible public figure with a personal intimacy and novelty on narrative lines.
In sporadic flashbacks, we are made privy to a young Ms. Thatcher’s (Alexandra Roach) early days when she went with her paternal surname of Roberts. Inspired by her supportive father’s work as a Conservative party worker and simultaneously castigated as being ‘a grocer’s daughter’, a diffident young girl takes the reins into her own hands and harnesses her grassroots relatability for her stint as an impassioned politician pushing for Britain’s economic reforms.
Her marriage of equality and empowerment to husband Dennis (Harry Lloyd) entitles her to more liberty. His calm and composed presence bears a ‘wind beneath my wings’ force and their mutual compatibility fails to be diluted even in wake of death and passage of time. Ms. Streep and Mr. Broadbent share an au natural spousal love and chemistry in these pithy exemplifications of the director’s firm creative control, including the domestic front replete with interpersonal tensions, weight of her position on her and her stance to balance her life.
From there on, the film charts Thatcher’s ascent on national firmaments amid male clamour and her slow and steady grip on global conscience as Britain’s first female Prime Minister, having proved her credentials to the common man, down to her tough choices regarding the Falkland Islands conflict.
What I like and have come to admire The Iron Lady (as I have watched it four times and each time it grew more on me as an unconventional biography) is the manner of delineating the titular individual. We are never constantly badgered with a faux feminist stance or idealistic posturings in her regard to a male dominated establishment. In demystifying her choices and decisions, she is like anybody in a position of authority and responsibility. She is committed to her to values, discipline, and sacrifice —a woman who dares and then succeeds to rise above gender. In Meryl’s hands, Thatcher prevails on screen just as much as she did in real time.
I am not probing deeply into the historical accuracy or creative licences brought to spotlight in The Iron Lady. It’s a flawed, biased languorous piece of representation. But if a performance ever monopolised the positive properties of a motion picture then Streep’s class act can be cited as a bona fide standard.
The Iron Lady is available to stream on Amazon Prime
by Prithvijeet Sinha
Prithvijeet Sinha (he/him), is from the great cultural hotbed of Lucknow, India. He is an ardent cinephile who has always believed in the power of cinema and poetry to transcend borders of any kind. He has published his articles and poetry on various journals and magazines since 2018 besides writing on cinema and popular culture on WATTPAD and his WordPress blog AN AWADH BOY’S PANORAMA. When not watching movies or writing poetry, he gets lost in the bottomless world of innocence occasioned by his cat Queenie and two lovebird parrots.