Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews The Iron Lady
My gran, bless her, always used to blindly gauge films on who the star was. Tom Hanks: “Oh I don’t like him.” (she loved Castaway.) Jack Nicholson: “Oh no, I don’t like his face. He’s bloody ugly.” (she loved Chinatown.) Meryl Streep: “Who? Oh her, oh no, I’m not keen.” But I can bet a part of her would’ve loved The Iron Lady, despite her staunch Labour leanings. This is a film that boldly caters to everyone, and whilst that statement alone might be enough to put people off, it really is a testament to Phyllida Lloyd’s direction and Streep’s embodiment of Thatcher that together, they’ve managed to pull off such a coup: making such a universally hated woman (at least in these parts) likeable.
Now this isn’t to say The Iron Lady is without fault. With such a cleverly-contrived jumping-off point for the story to revolve around – an elderly Thatcher reliving her life through a series of flashbacks, with a bumbling Denis (Jim Broadbent) as her ethereal guide – it allows the narrative to be rose-tinted simply because we’re watching events unfold from Thatcher’s own recollections. What politician wouldn’t want to see themselves in a good light, regardless of the supposed atrocities they are meant to have committed? (the Falklands conflict is dipped in and out of with particular cinematic gusto.) But this is the film’s strength, allowing both the left and right wing (and us bleeding heart liberals) their chance to jeer, heckle and, would you believe, enjoy proceedings as they unfold, such is the conviction of Streep’s portrayal.
It’s been said in the press that she throws everything but the kitchen sink at her embodiment of The Milk Snatcher, and they’re not far wrong. But it never descends into outright caricature (despite what the poster may suggest), Streep clearly having a ball with the character but showing subtle restraint where necessary. If the film wasn’t built to be such a one-woman show this restraint might have shone through more, giving room for the supporting characters to breathe (Richard E. Grant’s Heseltine barely gets five minutes to play with), but it’s fitting that such a whirlwind performance sits at the heart of this populist, drum-beating, lightning-paced trip down a rather harrowing memory lane. Take a seat on the front row, and bring along some Butterkist to throw at the screen (other popcorn brands are available) – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be thoroughly infuriated. But you can’t deny you’ll be entertained in the process.