Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Woman in Power, A Film Out of Control

Film: The Iron Lady
Year: 2011
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Written by: Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Julian Wadham.
Running time: 105 min.

The Avengers is receiving a lot of buzz lately, but what about all the films that came before it? Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Iron Man 2...I've seen them all. Somehow, after all this time, Meryl Streep's entry into the saga, The Iron Lady totally slipped my attention. After seeing it, I realise how it fit in: it is an interesting prequel to Iron Man, as Meryl Streep plays a woman who could very well be Iron Man's mother. It could also work as a sequel to Captain America, where we find out what really happened to Steve Rogers after he crashed, and his brain was taken over by Alzheimer's which is why he didn't know that he was asleep for so long. And it totally fits in with Thor, because it used as many crooked angle shots as Kenneth Branagh did with his tale of the Norse God. So I'm shocked to see that Meryl isn't on the poster for The Avengers. Oh...wait. She plays a real life person who was the opposite of a superhero. I never would have guessed from the film.

The film claims to be about Margaret Thatcher, who was the only female British prime minister. Someone who I'd actually like to learn about. However, The Iron Lady is really a film about Alzheimer's. Now, Alzheimer's a pretty sad disease. My grandmother has it, and I can guarantee that a movie made about her and how she can't remember who the hell I am would be far more exciting than watching Margaret Thatcher having Alzheimer's. That's because when you think Margaret Thatcher, you don't automatically think "Alzheimer's!" as the most interesting thing you could base your biopic on. She had an entire career of doing interesting stuff, but you wouldn't know it from the movie. As a biopic starring Meryl Streep, you can't help but get whispers of 'Oscar bait' coming off it, and the story fits with that. It is like they got a checklist: "Struggle against adversity, check. A story of the past told through the present, check. A different 'angle', check." I can see where screenwriter Abi Morgan was coming from when she chose to take the Alzheimer's angle, but she referred back to it so much that it took over the movie. If I could sum it up, it would be 30% Thatcher's actual career and everything mildly interesting she may have done, and 70% old Thatcher getting her milk and watching her dead husband (played hilariously by Jim Broadbent) dance around and forget his shoes. That only adds to the total cliché that flashbacks are in biopics...someone think of a new 'must-have' convention for the genres.

The difference between the interesting Thatcher and the old Thatcher storylines makes for some really odd pacing, too. We are rushed through Thatcher's youth (which was interesting), then through Thatcher's early political career (which was interesting), which without a lot of fuss turns into her being prime minister. She was prime minister for 11 years, but according to the movie, she was only prime minister for 30 seconds. People hated her, but why? Because her favourite colour was blue? The movie never gave a good answer. The end of her career is a tad more capitalised, which is probably due to the fact that she's getting older. However, when Alzheimer's was attackin' everything moved so slow. It was like a portion of our taxes goes towards the 'Meryl Streep fund' where we're obligated to watch her do mundane tasks like make a cup of tea or sort out her clothes. If I had to pay taxes towards Streep's existence, that would be fine, but I'd rather watch her singing ABBA songs than waddling around. Still, her performance is uniformly brilliant. Not once did I ever think "oh, that's Meryl Streep." She was my idea of Margaret Thatcher. Yet, I don't know whether that Oscar win was entirely justified. I know that Rooney Mara wasn't going to win anyway, but I would still pick that one as my favourite performance of all the nominees.

Let's just say this movie is like a mouse trying to attack a cat. The mouse is too small, and too weak to attack that cat. This film promises big things, but never follows through with them. Instead of telling the story of Margaret Thatcher, it makes a half-assed attempt at making you sympathise with her by manipulating you with the story of her decline due to Alzheimer's. It is like the mouse is trying to emotionally blackmail the cat into not eating him. The thing is, the mouse never wins. This movie never wins. It has an amazing performance from Meryl Streep (along with Broadbent and Olivia Colman), it wants to tell an interesting story, it is generally well made and the makeup is really good. But even with all of that, the cat won't hesitate to eat that mouse. It should have been bigger and better, which is what lets the film get eaten, so to speak.

Yet, if we just take a step back and think of this film as part of The Avengers, everything seems somewhat better. Because then it would have had it's way and wouldn't have had to pretend to be a Margaret Thatcher biopic. And those crooked angle shots may have been justified.

What I got:


  1. As I said to Tyler on Twitter, I refuse to watch this film because my family comes from a mining area in Scotland that was devastated by Maggot Thatcher's policies, and I'm not going to support a film that tries to turn her into the sympathetic figure she never was. Especially not when it seems to do it in such a lazy way.

    1. Yeah, don't watch this film. It is an absolute mess.

  2. A very mildly interesting thing... I was frustrated about its focussing on the older Thatcher too, and there were so many open questions. Why did the IRA hate her? When and how and why did her husband die? What about her son?
    Common people don't know stuff like that, and I consider myself pretty common... at least regarding British politics.
    So I agree with your review. And that thing about The Avengers... good idea. Haven't seen it yet, but good idea.

    1. I had a problem with all of the open questions, too. I sat their wondering how her husband died, and where her son was at. It was so confusing. I don't know a lot about her career or anything, but I looked on Wikipedia and I learnt more from that than I did from this movie.

  3. Great review, I really disliked the film which apart from nice cinematography, costumes and good work by Streep really didn't have much going for it.

    1. It really didn't. It was competently made but it was just a snooze-fest

  4. 'A mouse trying to attack a cat...' I love that!
    I haven't seen it yet, but personally I'd also be much more interested in a movie specifically about her time as PM. If it was told in flashbacks, that wouldn't be such a big problem, but what I gather from peoples reviews is that there are too little of those? Of course Alzheimers is a huge thing, and incredibly sad, but the film needs a strong direction? right?
    Great review as always Stevee!

  5. There are hardly any flashbacks. Just lots of Alzheimer's scenes. Not my idea of a 'Margaret Thatcher' biopic, but okay...

  6. Just appearing as the obligatory wet blanket to say that Meryl's performance in this is not amazing and simply a duller version of her typical ability to use vocal tics well. Aargh, this film I do not like.

    (And, the use of her husband's ghost is such an incredibly frustrating ploy I was torn between wondering if they were going for a horror or a comedy with it at times. And the overly pat symmetry of her promising never to "wash dishes" and the film ending with that - we get it, she's just a "normal" woman. Ugh. I can't, I just can't.)


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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