In The Iron Lady–good, if slightly muddled, slightly too long–Meryl Streep (a Golden Globe winner for this role) gives the best film performance since Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. And she keeps on giving. She portrays Margaret Thatcher at different ages, with equal emphasis on her political career and her old age–and it’s all uncanny. Eerie, even.
The film begins beautifully; deceptively, but you won’t hear from me how. Wait and see it: This is not an essay spoiling the most surprising parts of this (perhaps overly-ambitious) treatment of the story. Surprise is nearly everything here. Trust that whatever transpires in this unusual bio, Streep is up for it. The low-key ending is equally beautiful, appropriate and nicely sad–which is to say, necessary.
Ordinarily, political bios are tough sells for American audiences. Box offices here have to rely on Streep’s name and reputation and it’s a great performance, equally unsparing of Thatcher’s late-career authoritarianism and the vicissitudes of old age.
Moving back and forth in time, the usually graceful film uses juxtaposition to freshen up the usual conventions of biography. It does not ask a lot from Streep: it asks everything from her–every emotion, every psychological state, including approaching dementia.
But has Streep painted herself into a corner? Can she any longer play an ordinary person, or is she doomed to play greatness greatly? Maybe not. By my count this is Streep’s 35th movie, including small roles in films like Woody Allen’s Manhattan. That Mamma Mia transformed her career and sent her popularity soaring is amazing; probably why Mamma Mia director Phyllida Lloyd was in charge of this film, and acquits herself honorably.
Could the film be better? If 10 minutes were carefully trimmed it might’ve been. If less found footage were used its visual integrity would have improved. If Thatcher’s daughter had fewer lines. If…if…if…
But, c’mon, Streep is now unquestionably the greatest actress in the history of English language film. As one who has seen all her films, this writer is prepared to defend his assertions. In any case, The Iron Lady is well worth seeing, even if, like me, you weren’t so crazy about Margaret Thatcher. Over and out.