Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman
The Iron Lady gives us a peek into the private side of Margaret Thatcher’s life. Well it purports to; this is a movie after all. I have no idea how close the movie gets to the real story of Margaret and Denis Thatcher, but it feels right, which is what’s important for a movie. I’ve finally learned better than to expect history from a movie.
Margaret Thatcher is an icon of the Twentieth Century. She is the only woman who served as Prime Minister in the U.K.. She served as Prime Minister longer than anyone else in the Twentieth Century. Her policies of privatization, her leadership against communism and her steadfastness in the Falklands War have cemented her place in the history books. How do you squeeze all of that into one hundred and five minutes of film. Well it’s kind of like dining at a buffet, you take a piece of this a bit of that, hmm that’s a good morsel lets grab a bit more, eventually making it to the end of the line.
Our time machine is dementia. The Iron Lady begins with an elderly and slightly absent minded Margaret Thatcher, embodied completely by Meryl Streep, buying a carton of milk in a convenience store. The camera follows her walking home alone which doesn’t quite sit right. Margaret Thatcher walking around London without any kind of security escort? Well maybe they just do things differently on the other side of the pond. Well not quite that different. When Thatcher returns back home we find out that she has somehow sneaked out and caused quite a stir among her minders. Of course her minders are already worried about her because she is still having conversations with Denis her husband who died eight years ago. Denis is played by Jim Broadbent and his portrayal almost manages to upstage Streep, almost. Even after eight years Thatcher has still not gone through Denis’s things. Her caregivers think the time has finally come and Carol, played by Olivia Colman, is coming by to help her sort through the stuff.
Thatcher is not in the best shape, knickknacks, old photos, news on the television or headlines in the paper send her back in time. To a night during the bombing of London in WWII when she rushes out of the shelter to cover the butter in her father’s grocery store, to moments when she served in parliament, to her introduction to the party leaders the first time she ran for office, and then back to rallies watching her father speak. Each flashback builds a bit more or the story, like waves making it a little bit further up the beach as the tide comes in. Through these trips back in time we see Thatcher mature from a young girl working in her father’s grocery store, her courtship with Denis, her election to parliament, and eventually her becoming the Prime Minister and each time she returns to the present Denis’s shade is there to comfort her. Only it isn’t really comfort that Denis is providing anymore. His presence causes her to second guess her life’s choices which propels her back into the past to reexamine her decisions.
The Iron Lady is a heartbreaking vision of age, nostalgia, regret and loss. During the first half of the film Phyllida Lloyd doesn’t put a foot wrong. She weaves the strands of the story together perfectly blending reality and surreality and repeating certain motifs to build a compelling emotional portrait of Margaret Thatcher. As Thatcher’s career ascends the story becomes a more standard rise to power and inevitable fall yarn, but Lloyd pulls it all back together by the end of the movie.
The movie is a beautifully put together film. The cast is incredible, Streep and Broadbent are sublime but all of the performances are spot one. Alexandra Roach an Harry Lloyd who play the young Margaret and Denis are particularly good considering that in effect they are not only playing real people but have to provide performances that mesh flawlessly with Streep and Broadbent’s performances. The sets do a wonderful job of really making you feel like you are either in the fifties, seventies, eighties or contemporary London and the score and incidental movie complement the movie perfectly.
The video is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it looks fantastic. The amount of detail is amazing and the colors are deep and rich. I never noticed any aliasing, moire or any other digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in English in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. There are English and Spanish subtitles. The dialog, foley and score are always well mixed the one never stepping on the other.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The Blu-ray disc comes in a standard blue tinted Blu-ray case. There is also a DVD and Digital copy supplied. The artwork is restrained and suitably tasteful. The menus are attractive and easy to navigate. There are a number of featurettes which are perhaps a mite short but they are definitely worth taking a look at. Some kind of audio commentary would have been a nice addition.
Overall (not an average) 9/10
I must admit I was leery of this film. Thatcher has always been a hero of mine and I was afraid of how a conservative icon would be treated, but I found The Iron Lady’s Margaret Thatcher to be a sympathetic character. Of course it’s entirely possible that the film is neutral enough that it simply reflects back the viewers own prejudices, which is usually a good sign.
The Movie: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 7/10
Overall (not an average) 9/10