Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Iron Lady

Film #242


An elderly Margaret Thatcher talks to the imagined presence of her recently deceased husband as she struggles to come to terms with his death while scenes from her past life, from girlhood to British prime minister, intervene.

Year 1, Day 244

BEFORE: Welcome to a new month (March already!?) and with it comes a whole new chain. Unlike previous chains this one isn’t formed around a central genre or actor but rather is formed around the marathon itself. Over the course of the eight months I’ve been watching films, there have been a bunch that were moved around and ultimately postponed indefinitely. March will be leftover month for as long as I have films that fit that criterion.

Taking the first slot is The Iron Lady. Originally scheduled for the end of Oscar month, this film was pushed back due to some unscheduled advanced screenings. Now I finally get to see Meryl Streep’s third Academy Award winning performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

AFTER: This marathon is no stranger to films featuring a good deal of flashbacks; some executed well and some poorly. The Iron Lady, while featuring a stunning performance by Meryl Streep worthy of the Academy Award, doesn’t quite nail the story down into place and as a result is left wandering about trying to find its feet.

Going into the film I was expecting a much more historical film, detailing Thatcher’s (Meryl Streep) life from child to adult and the trials and tribulations she faced throughout. How did she become Prime Minister, what did she do, and why did she last so long in office? Very early on I realized that was not the type of film The Iron Lady is. Instead the focus lies on Thatcher’s life post-office and well into her late years after her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) passed away, reflecting back on the work she did and what it really meant in the long-run: what should you compromise on and for what should you remain steadfast?

This is certainly an interesting idea and one with a lot of promise. Streep gets the film off to a solid running start giving a spot-on performance of Margaret Thatcher. It’s blatantly clear that a lot of work went in to make Streep both look and act like Thatcher and it really pays off. Typically when there’s a major star, especially on as famous as Streep, I tend to identify their character’s by the actors name. A sign of how real Thatcher came across is that often I found myself forgetting that Streep was acting and just saw Thatcher on the screen. Her present day scenes, where she is elderly and suffering from dementia, are extremely visceral and you can feel the internal conflict raging on inside Thatcher’s mind. Then there are the historic scenes when Thatcher was in office, middle-aged, and mentally healthy. These scenes show the strong, willed, and unrelenting woman who, despite all odds, is able to succeed. Both of these time periods show the two sides to the complete whole of who Margaret Thatcher is and is by far the strongest part of the film.

But a lot of her character and purpose of the film is lost going back and forth between memory and reality. I said before the whole point of the film is not to give a history lesson but to investigate the importance of Thatcher and her actions as she reflects back upon them. However the film is more confusing than it is clear and not in an ambiguous way; it’s just difficult to follow along. The setting and time period is constantly changing, which isn’t inherently a problem but The Iron Lady can’t stay in one place long enough to fully develop an idea or thought. Once things get going in one place you’re whisked off to the next and scramble to put the pieces back together. I think this is an example where the flashbacks are just overdone. The concept is sound and having the primary setting be in present day (read: old Thatcher) gives the film an interesting twist, in that it’s not what you expect (at least I didn’t anyway). In order to work however, the film needs room to breathe and stand on its own which The Iron Lady does not. As a result I was left with a sense of a lack of cohesion and division between the old and the new, which is not good.

The Iron Lady has some clear strengths and weaknesses. In the plus column is the terrific acting led by none other than Meryl Streep who won an Academy Award for the occasion. She brings the character of Margaret Thatcher to life and provides a conduit through which you see these events unfold. However, the way these events unfold - through a plethora of flashbacks - is poorly structured and forces you from one scene to the next with no time to really stop and get fully invested in the film. I would hesitate on watching this immediately but if it do decide to watch it, you’ll still get something for your time and effort.

RATING: 3 out of 5