“The Iron Lady” — Meryl Streep Nails It

 Winner of the best actor 2012 Golden Globe for her stunning performance in “The Iron Lady”, Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, the iconic Prime Minister second only to Winston Churchill in power and impact on Great Britain. “The Iron Lady” is, at times, an exceptional meditation on old age and it is, once more, a virtuoso performance by the genius that is Meryl Streep.

First and foremost, however, “The Iron Lady” is a portrait of Thatcher as a woman whose tremendous sacrifices to family and identity were viewed, both by her and by her advisors, as necessary in order to become the first woman prime minister of Great Britain. Zooming in on the floor in the House of Parliament, the shot captures it all: a solitary pair of high-heel shoes among rows of Oxford wing-tips.

The opening scene lingers on a very elderly Thatcher (mid-eighties), struggling with dementia, as she talks to her husband Denis (the never-disappointing Jim Broadbent). Denis has been dead for about five years. But the ex-Prime Minister’s husband appears throughout the film as a hallucination in the frail psyche of the aging woman.

Margaret Thatcher’s story is told in flashbacks that take us back to her adolescence and young adulthood (played believably by Alexandra Roach).  In one noteworthy scene, the young Margaret tells her parents with barely contained excitement, that she has been accepted into Oxford University.  The camera cuts away to her mother, who continues to wash dishes in silence.  Much later in the film, the elderly Margaret repeats the same dishwashing in a scene with her own daughter, who yearns for validation from her. Scenes with a plate of butter, which appear several times, also convey an analogy–its importance as a special treat in her youth as a grocer’s daughter, to the accepted presence on the breakfast table at 10 Downing Street. Flashbacks to her own childhood and that of her own parenting underscore the disconnect to her own children, especially her daughter.

Meryl Streep never disappoints in cloning the character she inhabits. She is not merely imitating Thatcher, but rather channeling her physicality– right down to her speech, which is transformed from her natural pitch to a more “masculine” and “authoritative one”. Chameleon-like in facial expression and body language, Streep mesmerizes with the slightest-of-slightest hand and body tremors, the shifts in posture and gait to reflect the passage of time. Extraordinary makeup never distracts, except to astonish by making Streep almost unrecognizable.  Watch the way she moves and, if you remember seeing Margaret Thatcher on television, you’ll swear you’re seeing her as she walks along.  Streep perfects this every time (as many of us remember with her uncanny portrait of Julia Child). Her award-winning performance is achingly honest in its understanding and interpretation of Thatcher’s powerful intellect, motivations, even perhaps her unconscious.


Comments (5)

  • I see Joanne’s point on the over emphasis of dementia.
    Streep was her usual best, never ceases to amaze me how she can take a role and inhabit it effortlessly .
    However, I would have liked to see the direction of the movie focused on the political under tones and implications of her ” iron rule”.
    Great analysis Diana!

  • Your review of the movie is perfect…you captured all of the points the movie was making…It would be interesting to hear your commentary on Ms. Thatcher and her ideology ie: people pulling their weight, shutting the unprofitable mines and the war with Argentina???

  • I agree with you totally that it is an extraordinary performance by Streep. I listened very closely to her accent and she was not sounding like an American or an over the top Brit. She got it just right. Her ability to change character through decades was seamless. (and I really enjoyed the young Thatcher actress, too.) BUT, in my opinion, there was too much emphasis on the dementia suffering years. I also felt the Dennis character did not have as much diversity — he seemed the same age to me throughout his middle and last years–more a product of the makeup than the acting.

  • Meryl Streep is an actress at the top of her game, however, Thatcher was one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. “The Iron Lady” becomes a study in rhetoric and personal style, and little else. Streep gave a valiant performance, but not a thoughtful provocative one. The fault lies with the director. I left after 40 minutes.

  • This is one I did see. Your compliments about Streep are certainly on the ball. However, what did you think about the movie itself? It was very depressing to me and I left the theater thinking I didn’t like the movie. I’m closer to the period in Thatcher’s life than you are, and the possibility of dementia is more relevant to me perhaps, so I didn’t appreciate so much attention to it in the whole film. Margaret Thatcher did change the way Britons behaved during her tenure as Prime Minister and really hardly anything was emphasized about her effect in that way. It was a great act for Streep and I’ll bet if she had written it it would have been just what we saw. Joanne

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