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DVD Review: ‘The Iron Lady’

★★★☆☆

The most striking aspect of Phyllida Lloyd’s Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady (2011) is in its treading-on-eggshells approach to dealing with the politics that made the grocer’s daughter from Grantham such a polarising figure. Whilst Lloyd has since made it explicitly clear that that was her intended approach in depicting the Iron Lady (played magnificently by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep), those of us who grew up in a country divided by the ominous shadow cast by Thatcher may feel a little short-changed.

Oscillating between past and present, the film paints a sensitive portrayal of Lady Thatcher’s ailing mental health, using memories from her past to make assumptions about the reasons for her saddening decline from such commanding strength to a state of such upsetting frailty. With each flashback scene we are taken to a pivotal moment in the life of Thatcher, from her youth as an outcast greengrocer’s daughter to Oxford graduate, eventually taking on the male-dominated world of British politics and the role of prime minister.

The Iron Lady is typically British in its style of delivery, with simple and intimate camerawork that has the ability to place you directly in the room with the central characters of the film. Consequently, there is a real closeness to Lloyd’s Thatcher that, as a result of Streep’s prowess as an actress, is both moving and astounding.

Streep clearly spent countless hours perfecting the mannerisms and gestures of a woman so commanding in her speech and expression, and delivers a wonderful performance both as Thatcher the iron-cast politician and Thatcher the fragile, seemingly lonely OAP. In addition, the fantastic make-up that helps bring to life Streep’s Thatcher provides an aesthetically uncanny depiction of the woman, both in her younger and older form.

Whilst The Iron Lady does largely avoid dealing with Thatcher’s contentious Conservative ideologies, in places it feels like the audience is being encouraged to feel for the polarising figure and her political exploits through a careful portrayal of her fortitude in the face of adversity, and the matriarchal strength that has helped remain relevant to this day. For many who were opposed to her politics, this may make for a difficult watch, but Lloyd’s Thatcher isn’t handed to us gilded in gold; she is humanised and even slightly weakened in places, as a Lloyd clearly seeks a sense of empathy for her protagonist.

The film’s fantastic central performance, along with wonderful costume and make-up means The Iron Lady is well worth its weight in coal – sorry, gold – but being the first real account of the life and politics of Britain’s first and only female prime minister, the film, for many, may tread a little to safely around the issues that made Thatcher the divisive figure she remains to this day.

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Russell Cook