Regardless of her politics, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was always a great character in a fascinating story. She was the shopkeeper's daughter who rose to the world political stage. In public, she was unflappable, facing down muttering lords and screaming lads alike; in the corridors of power, she was said to be even steelier.
Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady understands the fascination invoked during Mrs. T's 11-year tenure as prime minister; she was a figure that drew white heat from both supporters and detractors. (The film draws its title from one of the prime minister's more flattering sobriquets.)
While Thatcher's polarizing status gives this bio-pic some frisson, I suspect it also caused Lloyd to forefront the personal, and sidestep some political landmines. Further exploration of defining and controversial aspects of Thatcher's rule, such as breaking the unions or privatizing public entities, feels noticeably absent.
Instead, Lloyd focuses on the human side, revealing the milestones of Thatcher's life through (slightly disjointed) flashbacks. In 2008, the elderly Margaret (Meryl Streep) totters around her London home, her memories prompted by delusions of her dead husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). Thus we see her youthful adoration of her father, who schooled her in self-determination; the Kodachrome moments with her young children; her election to Parliament; and her ascension to her long-running stint as PM.
Lloyd films all these scenes vibrantly, with Thatcher, inevitably clad in bright blue, front and center. But in her contemporary twilight, Thatcher is weepy and troubled, presented as a pitiable figure trapped between what she imagines as the grandeur of history and the confused loneliness of her retirement.
Streep will likely be clearing her mantle for another slew of statuettes this season, and her uncanny inhabiting of the character is everything we demand of and admire about the actress. Broadbent is also good, as the once-smitten young man who wound up as Mr. Mrs. Thatcher in public, and her ballast in private. Starts Fri., Jan. 13.