The Iron Lady (2011)

(On TV, May 2017) No, no, no, I will not have anyone rehabilitate, humanize or soften Margaret Thatcher. I won’t excuse the hardline regressive policies that set such a bad example in the eighties. But such is the bet placed by The Iron Lady, a biographical picture that uses Thatcher’s dementia-afflicted last few years as a springboard through which to fast-forward through her career, battling sexism and lesser minds along the way. To be fair, The Iron Lady isn’t always boring as it frames Thatcher’s career as flashbacks through an afflicting episode of dementia. Nor is Meryl Streep anything less than spectacular as Thatcher. Jim Broadbent is also quite amusing as an imaginary character who probably knows he’s imaginary. (Alas, this last sentence may cause more curiosity in the film than I’d like.) There’s also something quietly interesting in showing an “iron lady” as a frail old woman whose mind is fast slipping away. But even then, The Iron Lady can be a trying viewing experience for two big reasons. The first being that an episodic collection of scenes hitting the high points of a life doesn’t necessarily amount to a coherent narrative—the second being that for all of the daring in showing Thatcher as a doddering old woman, the film is firmly sympathetic to its subject, eliding or minimizing the lengthy list of valid complaints against her and her time in power. Margaret is always right, everyone else is a fool—and her resignation is forced by small intellects rather than a reflection that she’d gone on too long and too far. So there you go: The Iron Lady as a mirror of viewers’ feeling about a divisive historical character. The film itself is too flat to change anyone’s mind on the topic.

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