Meryl Streep singlehandedly carries The Iron Lady with a performance—quite literally—(if with a precocious assist from Alexandra Roach as the younger incarnation) for the ages. The tenor, tone and temperament of the unyielding Conservative (famously: “Sink it!” so virulently spat out during the Falkland Islands sequence) leader is a studied miracle of detail, capturing the rhythm, nuance and range of Margaret Thatcher with incredible panache.
Naturally, a wee bit of Streep’s personality seeps into the mix, curiously confirming that her own persona is most certainly not totally at odds with that of her unbending character’s.
Better still, turn off the sound and savour the physical depiction from several decades’ gait variations to wily eyebrows that speak volumes through the signature grasp of highball glasses that carry a similar grip to Thatcher’s unflinching resolve when in power.
The few classical strands (ranging from Maria Callas’ electrifying rendition of “Casta Diva”—“Pure Goddess”—to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto—no coincidence these) subtly underscore the demeanour and, eventually, pathetic sense-of-self emanating from the Grand Dame of British politics.
Special kudos are most certainly due to “makeup and hair” (under the most able eyes of production designer Simon Elliott, J. Roy Helland’s talents are nothing short of superb in this remarkable transformation)—designers of all stripes from here on will use this film as a treasure trove of “how to.”
Lurking quietly in the familial weeds (whether alive or frequently flitting about as a decidedly friendly ghost), Jim Broadbent does yeoman’s service as the perpetually seen-but-seldom-heard (noticeably without the royal gaffes of fellow subaltern, Prince Philip) Dennis Thatcher. (The younger version, Harry Lloyd, seems a tad too Clark Kentish to plausibly morph into the mature, long-suffering husband.)
Without reservation, Streep deserves another Oscar as she continues to portray some of the most eclectic women of our time (cross-reference below).
Given the decidedly stodgy pace and overly “busy” structure of the narrative (screenwriter Abi Morgan—so much more successful with Shame—aided and sadly abetted by director Phyllida Lloyd: we’re miles away from Mamma Mia!), it comes as no surprise that The Iron Lady is not in contention for best picture. Like Invictus, there probably is a real gem to be made about Thatcher’s time, but there will have to be a lot more precious detail to rivet the audience while the events unfold as much as Streep’s consummate skill as the protagonist keeps the film from collapsing.
Will anyone have the courage to recast her and get the devil into the detail? JWR