The thing that always captivated me about Margaret Thatcher was her voice. Rich and resonant, booming and sonorous, it gave her the ability to use such Churchillian rhetoric as “I am in politics because of the battle between good and evil” and sound determined and compelling where most politicians would simply sound ridiculous. The Iron Lady succeeds at having Meryll Streep turn in a thrilling performance which embodies the mannerisms that made Britain’s first female Prime Minister so arresting a figure; this is fortunate because the film succeeds at little else. There are effectively two films here, the first following the elderly Thatchers struggle with dementia and the loss of her husband Dennis, and the other being a chronicle of Thatchers political career. The intention seemingly is to show the prizefighter at both the zenith of her powers and the pity of obscurity, a la De Niro in Raging Bull.
But the films screenplay is formless and mediocre, and never develops any of its themes nearly enough to deliver emotional resonance. Mrs Thatchers attachment to Dennis is somewhat touching, but for a love story to have any impact, the audience must be privy to the struggles of the couple throughout there relationship. There is a perfunctory scene before Margaret runs for leader of the Conservative Party where her husband accuses her of putting her family before politics, but this theme, which is still a cliché in the best political films, gets barely two minutes treatment and comes off as hackneyed and saccharine. Regardless of whether you agree with her politics, Margaret Thatcher was a woman who refused to compromise on points of principle and revelled in battle, whether against the Trade Unions, the European Commission, the Labour Party, the Argentinian Junta or those in her cabinet she derided as “wets.” But none of her adversaries are given more than a minutes screen time, and this makes it impossible for her battles to seem at all compelling. The film constantly stresses how she will never compromise or back down, but we never see Thatchers resolve truly tested, nor the consequences of her actions examined in any depth.
The film seems to have been made purely as Oscar bait for Streep, as the camera virtually never leaves her. Britain in this time of turbulence is shown through a few short, hectic montages of protest and conflict and the contrast between these styles is so jarring that they never gell; at no point do you ever get the feeling that Thatcher is the historical figure she was. Hollywood blockbusters rarely go into political depth, but at a time when the worldwide Neo-Liberal consensus of which she was so instrumental in implementing is starting to break down while her predictions about German hegemony in Europe or the infeasibility of the European single currency that were dismissed in 1990 as “paranoia” are being vindicated, a film that critically examined Thatchers legacy would have been timely and relevant. As it stands, The Iron Lady is quite forgettable.