Streep rules with iron fist

BRITIAN’S first and only female prime minister gets the film treatment in this rather rosy gaze at Margaret Thatcher’s reign.

Thursday, 5th January 2012, 9:50 am

Now in her eighties, The Iron Lady – played magnificently by Meryl Streep – finally resolves to clear out her dead husband’s clothes and as she does so, takes a trip down memory lane to consider her controversial career.

Director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Abi Morgan’s decision to try and distance the plot from Thatcherism to focus on the woman and frame her career via fractured memories is ultimately the film’s weakness.

It plays like one long montage, a Greatest Hits collaboration featuring only the chorus to each song – and one which, while not relentlessly lionising her (we see protests, riots and snatches of her autocratic style), certainly reinforces the Thatcher myth to the Baroness’ benefit.

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The film’s greatest challenge is that whichever way you politically lean, emotional baggage is included in the price of the cinema ticket.

The inescapable fact is that – for all the boldness of its structural approach – this country still aches from the impact of Thatcher’s rule.

There are many who will never forgive her for decisions she took in the mines, the Falklands, the poll tax – just as there are many who still praise her strength, and applaud her emphasis on conviction rather than compromise.

But you can easily guess the film’s strength. Yes of course: Streep.

The America actress realises Thatcher with almost terrifying fidelity, both at the height of her power, and in her twilight days.

The actress who did ABBA-karaoke for Lloyd in their last collaboration (Mamma Mia) goes leagues beyond impersonation here; she inhabits the role so well she may as well claim squatter’s rights.

It’s a shame that another great performance – Jim Broadbent as husband Denis – gets sidelined and even more of a shame that their relationship, the most interesting element (if you want to push the politics to the background), is unsatisfyingly presented.

It would be a welcome thing indeed if both actors – and Olivia Colman, excellent as daughter Carol – could be cast again in an alternative Thatcher movie by a different, spikier director.

Oliver Stone perhaps?