Thatcher biopic excels in makeup but suffers in plot

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The uncanny mannerisms are what will impress most movie-goers. And the splendid job in hair, makeup, and costume. But as for plot, ‘The Iron Lady’ falls somewhat short of substance for a film that celebrates one of the greatest female political icons of the 20th Century.

All eyes are on Meryl Streep throughout most of the film, of course. Can she extrapolate on the bitterness she brought to us as Anna Wintour in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’? Project a more universal sense of purpose and persistence than her Julia Child? Well, yes, she can, but unfortunately the scriptwriters neglected to include all the grittier, meatier stuff that made British politics in the 1980s so hard-hitting. Sure, viewers get to see montage after montage of protest and civil war, but despite some carnage, the real flesh and blood of the heady situations – from the miner strikes to the Falklands war – appear to have been kept locked in the archives.

Showing Thatcher’s progress into politics – as one of only a few women in a male-dominated field – is a necessary part of the film, but amongst the extreme images of marginality (a blue frock floating amid a sea of pinstripe suits; lessons on having her vocals deepened in order to be taken more “seriously”), the film begins to look more like a camp exercise in gender deconstruction. You almost feel as though Streep is about to throw a Joan Crawford and shout at the head of the boardroom table, “Don’t fuck with me fellas; this ain’t my first time at the rodeo”.

If Streep had been given a bolder script to work with – and Thatcher’s life was packed with substantial subject matter, from her negative stance on gay rights to personal issues that co-influenced her resignation in 1990 – she, and ‘The Iron Lady’ might both be worthy of an Oscar. Albeit, the actress will likely be nominated, but it’ll be the makeup and costume that run away with any major gold statues.

 

‘The Iron Lady’ releases on Boxing Day. To view the trailer, click on the image below.