(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 3 March 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Harry Lloyd, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Rating: 1 star
A bewildered old woman wearing a headscarf shuffles around a convenience store that’s playing desi music. When she returns home, she grumbles about the price of milk to her husband. Over the next few minutes, we learn what we knew when we recognised Meryl Streep in the first shot – the lady is Margaret Thatcher, the husband imaginary. And thus begins a disappointing tribute that oscillates between showcasing the human side of The Iron Lady, and the hardened ideals of the grocer’s daughter.
Thatcher comes across as a senile old woman who needs to be reminded by her daughter (Olivia Colman) that her son’s in South Africa, her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) is dead, and she isn’t the Prime Minister of Britain anymore. As she comes to terms with her bereavement by disposing of Denis’ old things, little incidents trigger off memories that will test our patience for the better part of two hours. The dramatisation is painfully overstated – to the extent one expects Thatcher to die washing a teacup because she says “I cannot die washing up a tea cup”, until one realises it would be rude to kill her prematurely.
If the predictable pattern doesn’t irk us, the storyline will. What exactly is the film trying to say? In a more-or-less chronological narrative, it follows the love story of a young Margaret Roberts (Alexandra Roach) and Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd), and meanders through to a widowhood resembling Queen Victoria’s extended mourning. It’s dotted with vignettes of a mother tearing herself away from her children to go to work, of a woman’s struggles in a man’s world, of tough political decisions as a nation teeters towards bankruptcy. In other words, it may as well have been a documentary voiced over by David McAlister. The cameos by news presenters, including Trevor McDonald, don’t help the cause. Neither does the music, which is even more schizophrenic than the subject of the film – there were times when I turned around to hiss at someone whose ringtone I thought I’d heard, before figuring out it was part of the soundtrack.
Do the filmmakers really think watching a woman deal with a resentful family and a demanding country is either fascinating or inspiring today? Or that some semblance of stream-of-consciousness, if doing a fictitious crossword while thinking about the Al Qaida and IRA qualifies, can intellectualise the film? Littered with hackneyed lines, the movie spends more time on Thatcher’s own makeover, complete with pitch-training and hair-styling, than her political journey.
If the film had focused on how Thatcher resurrected the nation’s economy, rather than make it appear as if the Falklands War – a Pyrrhic Victory, if there was ever one – did the trick, it may have had substance. However, it seems to have been designed to give Meryl Streep a platform for a final triumph. She gets the few good lines in the screenplay, she essays a posh British accent, and she dons an avatar that begs a standing ovation from the hoi polloi. And she’s so conscious of this that she forgets to act.
The Verdict: Playing out like it was commissioned by the Tories, The Iron Lady is a lesson in lazy filmmaking.