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Monday, December 26, 2011

Meryl Streep Calls On Past Alter Egos to Channel Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"

There is no denying Meryl Streep's remarkable talent to not just transform herself into a character, but to rather make you believe that she actually is the character. She delivers another metamorphosing performance as the captivating yet controversial U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

Written by Abi Morgan (Shame), The Iron Lady isn't your typical biopic in that it doesn't follow a linear path. The story is really about the woman behind the legend, the first woman to lead a major political party in the nation. But we meet her as she's slowly losing the memories of her inspirational life and career. She is tasked with having to pack up the belongings of her beloved husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who died eight years prior. Suffering from slight dementia, she has visions of her Denis. We see her talking to him in the present as if he's still around; they have conversations on everything currently happening in her life--from her distant relationship with her son Mark to the public perception of her as a wilted former leader.

Although Denis' incessant presence in her life often irritates Thatcher in the movie, you get the feeling that she relies more heavily on him being there than she cares to admit, and cherishes their memories together. We're taken back and forth in time throughout Thatcher's modest beginning as the daughter of a grocery store owner to becoming the screechy female politician in a predominantly male world to meeting and falling in love with her husband and raising their children. Throughout her divisive career, which took heat not only from citizens but her all-male cabinet, we see touching episodes of her loving relationship with Denis.

In fact, Broadbent's Denis really steals the movie. He's funny, affectionate and romantic even as a figment of Thatcher's mind. He makes the movie more of a love story than we might have expected it to be. He humanizes a woman people never had a chance to see, or maybe care to see.

But we can't help but get flashbacks of Streep's affectionate portrayal as Thatcher to her far more entertaining (and more interesting) performance as Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada, by way of her portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Streep borrowed her same biting mannerisms she used in Prada, and her same bubbly vulnerability she brought to Child to her performance of Thatcher. Although these three characters were similar in a lot of ways, they couldn't have been more different in other areas. With the exception of her more intimate scenes between Broadbent and Olivia Colman (who plays Thatcher's daughter Carol), we as an audience suffer from visions of Miranda and Julia at times. This in no way takes away from Streep's performance or makes it less convincing, but it is something worth noting in analyzing of Streep's performance.

You've got to give it to Abi Morgan, who's taken an unconventional approach to Thatcher's story, but one which makes it far more interesting than one that simply could have been a recount of a feminist accomplishment. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who previously collaborated with Streep in Mamma Mia!, however, takes a strange approach to directing the movie with a series of slow motion and repetitive reaction shots of Streep. It throws off the pace of the scene and disrupts the flow of the performance.

While the movie tries to cultivate Thatcher's life, it's not perfect. But the chemistry between Broadbent and Streep to elevate an untold romance beautifully elevates the flawed movie.

Rating: C+

The Iron Lady opens in theaters January 13, 2012.


NeverTooEarlyMP said...

Another great review. I knew that Streep would be great in this, but I'm glad to read Broadbent getting some recognition too. I can't wait until this opens near me.

Rick Hamilton said...

My only problem with Broadbent was I felt he was doing the exact same thing he had done as John Bayley in "Iris." It was more distracting to me than when Streep summoned memories of Child (which I agree did happen a couple of times).

I thought Streep was better in the contemporary scenes as the older Thatcher. At times, I completely forgot it was her, which very rarely happens for me (as much as, or because, I adore her).

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