Good performances in bad movies come along more often than one would think. The fact is there are good actors out there who happen to star in bad movies, and for the most part I’m one of those guys who will recommend a film just because it has a stunning performance in it. I think that a great performance can outweigh poor directing or a bad screenplay and make a film worth the price of admission. A truly great performance can save a bad movie.
The Iron Lady features Meryl Streep, one of the greatest actors ever, as one of the most interesting women to ever live, Margaret Thatcher. It’s one of those roles that you know she is just going to knock out of the park because she knocks every role out of the park — and she does. You still shouldn’t see Iron Lady.
The Iron Lady
Director: Phyllidia LLoyd
Release date: January 13, 2012
It’s possible that you were born post 1990 and are reading this. It’s also possible that your knowledge of world affairs both before and after your birth is truly lacking. It’s finally possible that you skipped important parts of school and never wondered who Austin Powers was talking about when he closed his eyes and yelled “Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day” when Fembots were attacking him. Because all these things are conceivably possible, I must say a few words about who Margaret Thatcher is I suppose.
Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was the the first female Prime Minister, a staunch conservative, one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in history, one of the most powerful people on earth during the end of the Cold War, and an incredible woman all around. She was Prime Minister during the Falklands War and also raised a family with her husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent). She’s a pretty fascinating woman who led an incredibly interesting life.
One would thus assume that the focus of a film about her would be the interesting parts of her life: her rise to power, her controversies, the war, her relationship with Ronald Reagan, a bit of family stuff, etc. However, that’s not the approach Iron Lady decided to take. Instead the film spends half its time in the present day, focusing on Thatcher as an old woman who has some form of dementia (or something) and believes her dead husband is still alive. Not only is this not actually the case in reality, but it makes for a movie that’s really quite uninteresting on the whole. As it zooms through the time leading up to Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister, and then straight through her complicated and contentious times in office, the movie blurs by every interesting aspect of the the woman’s life as it, for some random reason, seems to want us all to think that she is now old, feeble and weak. If the movie wasn’t so downright uninspiring throughout it would come off as insulting.
Why screenwriter Abi Morgan and director Phyllidia LLoyd chose to go this route is beyond me, but it definitely wasn’t their only poor decision. The film is told non-linearly; jumping back and forth between boring, made-up, old Thatcher and interesting semi-factual young Thatcher. However, Lloyd has no control over her movie and the jumps in time are never well explained, making the character completely disjointed. Instead of helping you feel like you’re connecting with her in both time periods the jumps only manage to alienate you from each because you aren’t sure what is going on. Streep actually spoke before the screening I was at and almost apologetically said that they were just trying to tell a good story. There is definitely a good story in the life of Thatcher, but this film neither tells it nor tells it well.
It is Meryl Streep, though, and she can act. There’s almost no moment where she isn’t on screen and when she isn’t, the rest of the cast, especially Broadbent, are performing incredibly well. Streeps’ Thatcher is spot on (at least from the TV appearances I’ve seen of the woman), and while the elderly version of Thatcher may be pointless and dull, at least Streep manages to imbue her with some life because of her strong performance. There are scenes in this movie where Streep does more with her eyes than most actors will ever do in their entire career. It’s a truly stellar performance.
After that paragraph is usually when I’d tell you to go see the movie just to see Streep, but I really can’t do that. The rest of this movie is so mishandled and downright strange in the choices it makes that it’s not really worth paying to see her performance. If this was Streep’s only great performance then maybe I’d say go for it, but since you can see her give just as strong a performance in almost any dramatic role she’s ever done I don’t see why you should have to suffer through the mishandling of what could have been a great bio-pic.