(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 4 March, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/maggie-overpowers-meryl)
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Rating: 1 star
Meryl Streep winning her third Oscar, after a 30-year gap, is a bit like Martin Scorsese winning his first for The Departed – the Academy seems to have been making amends for denying them on all those other occasions. Because, if anything, The Iron Lady proves that Streep is fallible. Her impersonation of Margaret Thatcher is almost flawless, but the mimic overshadows the actor. Streep spends most of the film widening her eyes, tightening her mouth, looking around like she’s lost her notes, and demonstrating a facial tic that’s reminiscent of My Name is Khan. Sometimes, one visualises her holding up a board that says “Repair almost anything” too.
The rigidly factual storyline provides no scope for perspective. It’s bad enough when a film is neutral to a woman who polarised opinion for eleven years; but this one follows a tired template – episodic narrative in flashback – in such a contrived manner that I was reminded of Slumdog Millionaire.
The film traces Thatcher from grocer’s daughter to Prime Minister to senile widow. Alexandra Roach is deplorable as the young Margaret Thatcher, stuttering feminist rhetoric with the air of a depressed nurse. On the subject, the film weakly strives to make subtle statements on woman power. Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd and Jim Broadbent), is portrayed as a male feminist. Several scenes focus on Mrs. Thatcher’s high heels and pastel suits in a sea of men’s attire. She walks into a restroom labelled ‘Members’ to see men flashing theirs. The ‘Lady Members’ area has a prominently-displayed ironing board. Disapproving MPs say she “doth screech too much” – an impediment she hires a speech trainer to cure.
Bung into this the woman’s conflict – she hides her children’s toys in the glove compartment as she drives to work; she pulls a torch out of her cavernous bag when the electricity is cut. She orders the sinking of Argentine ships at the Falklands, before “mothering” a visiting dignitary with an offer of tea. She emasculates her co-workers, and then heads home to boil eggs for her husband. When all it really needed was the one scene where she holds a meeting while dressing for an engagement at Buckingham Palace – if four men snap at you when your cleavage is ensconced in a shiny blue bra, you are the Iron Lady.
There’s some clever dialogue, but it’s lost among clichés. The archival footage is an awkward fit in a film that lacks temporal texture. The farcical attitudes of the men marching back and forth makes it seem more like an outdated stage play than an award-winning movie.
The Verdict: Phyllida Lloyd’s film is easily the drabbest in a year that produced a plethora of biopics.