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Movie Review: The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep's remarkable portrayal of Margaret Thatcher

Meryl Streep stars as Margaret Thatcher in

Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent in The Iron Lady.
— Courtesy The Weinstein Company

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Rated: PG-13, Runtime: 105 mins.
Stars: Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent

En español  |  Making a biopic about a 1980s British prime minister (and one widely agreed to have been polarizing) that will appeal to American audiences is no small feat, and director Phyllida Lloyd — probably best known in the U.S. for the commercial smash Mamma Mia! — pulls it off thanks to two key decisions.  The first was casting America’s leading lady, Meryl Streep, in the title role of Margaret Thatcher. The second was framing the tale as a love story.

In The Iron Lady, we meet the first and still the only female prime minister in Britain’s history in something like present time, long after her glory days. (Thatcher is now 86.) In flashback, we are introduced to her as a young student, and later as an accomplished middle-aged politician. Originally Lloyd thought she would need three different actresses for the role. Enter Streep, who convinced Lloyd she could believably be Margaret from age 49, at which point she took the lead of England’s Conservative Party, well into her 80s. (Welsh newcomer Alexandra Roach portrays Thatcher in her youth). Thanks to some very adept makeup, applied by J. Roy Helland, and Streep’s gift of inhabiting real-life characters, as she did just slightly less remarkably with Julia Child in Julie & Julia, the actress channels Thatcher through those years — in voice, expression, gesture and stature.

We all know Thatcher held her own with macho male political leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. We know she had a reputation for being almost anti-feminine, ruthless with her nearly all-male cabinet and, at times, dangerously decisive. Ingeniously, Lloyd presents Thatcher completely against type. Because the film centers on Thatcher late in life, after she has lost her husband and soul mate, Denis (played tenderly by English actor Jim Broadbent of Moulin Rouge! fame), it exposes her vulnerability. We can relate to this Thatcher, a devoted partner in a loving, romantic marriage — a woman who can’t let go of her husband, even in death.

In his most recent biopic, J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood also uses a love story to help define the former head of the FBI. But Lloyd takes us deeper into the key relationship in the life of Margaret Thatcher, and, in doing so, lets us know her intimately.

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