FILM REVIEW: The Iron Lady (12A)

In 1975, grocer’s daughter Margaret Thatcher became the first woman to lead a major UK political party.

Wednesday, 4th January 2012, 5:00 pm

Four years later, she became our first female prime minister, holding office for three consecutive terms.

She united and divided the country, smashing through gender and class barriers to be heard above the patriarchal hubbub in Westminster.

The Iron Lady paints a sketchy portrait of Thatcher as she looks back over her life from the comfort of her lodgings at Chester Square in London’s swanky Belgravia.

It would be impossible to shoehorn a lifetime of political tug-of-war into 104 minutes of screen time.

Instead, scriptwriter Abi Morgan conceives a poignant tribute that revisits key moments in flashback, seen through the eyes of an increasingly frail eighty-something woman fighting against the rising tide of fractured memories.

Baroness Thatcher (Meryl Streep) juggles a busy social diary with the help of assistants and her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman).

She hosts dinner parties where she voices her views on the current government (“I don’t like coalitions, never have”) and David Cameron (“Clever man, quite a smoothie!”) but is disparaging about the state of Westminster since her departure: “It used to be about trying to do something, now it’s about trying to be someone.”

Comforted by the ghost of her late husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), Thatcher allows her mind to wander back to the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference, the Falklands war and her downfall precipitated by a critical speech from Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) in front of appalled fellow Cabinet ministers.

She fondly recalls the words of her shopkeeper father (Iain Glen) and holds her course when the whispering begins on the backbenches, firmly telling one doubter, “It was the people who put me here. It’s up to them to tell me when to go.”

The Iron Lady is dominated by Streep’s tour-de-force portrayal of Thatcher, which should earn her the Oscar by a landslide.

She electrifies every frame of Phyllida Lloyd’s film, disappearing completely beneath the ageing make-up, tailored suits and false teeth to embody a naive interloper who blossomed into a compelling orator.

Broadbent offers sterling support and Colman is equally impressive, including a heartbreaking scene in which Carol tearfully attempts to re-tether her mother’s mind to reality.

“You are not prime minister anymore and Dad is... Dad is dead,” she whispers soothingly.

As a full, unexpurgated history lesson, The Iron Lady is found wanting and great swathes of Thatcher’s premiership are glossed over.

However, as a portrait of a lady in her twilight years, Lloyd’s film moves, providing us with fleeting insights to a figure who still divides opinion as much today as she did during her reign at 10 Downing Street.

By Damon Smith


Released: January 6 (UK & Ireland), 104 mins