Maggie, actually – The Iron Lady review

The Iron LadyStarring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

You can always trust a good old fashioned biopic to sand down the edges of history’s most complex and interesting characters. Phyllida Lloyd‘s The Iron Lady simplifies, distorts, and grossly misrepresents the tenure of Britain’s most controversial Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, as well as the era in which she governed. But it’s not just blandly conceived; it’s also unendingly silly. Monty Python is evoked more often than The King’s Speech, and star Meryl Streep seems to be reprising her performance as Julia Child from Julie and Julia (although she’s turned all the way up to ’11’ here, which is saying something).

Worst of all, The Iron Lady is ideologically poisonous. It champions Thatcher without once calling her out. Anyone who opposes ‘Thatcherism’ is positioned as either sexist (‘What would a woman know about war?’) or classist (‘Look at this grocer’s daughter teaching us about taxes’), as if there were no rational reason for disagreeing with the woman or her ways. In the same way an entirely-critical film would provide an unfair depiction, Lloyd’s rose-tinted, tone-deaf, hamfisted, gauche, funhouse-mirror version is similarly misguided.

The picture begins with 86-year-old Thatcher (Streep in full chicken-skin makeup) tottering around her estate, haunted by the ghost of her husband Denis (a playful but out-of-place Jim Broadbent). Before you can say ‘Jacob Marley’, the hallucinatory Maggie begins to reflect on her days as a plucky young politician (Alexandra Roach) and eventually as the UK’s first female PM. Amidst visits from her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) and a trip to the doctor, old Margaret recalls the tumultuous events of her time at 10 Downing Street: IRA bombings, the Falklands War, and, of course, the general unrest in Britain during the 1980s. Through it all she speechifies and tells people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. She wears her pearls and she primps her hair and we’re meant to believe she’s both inspirational and a human being just like us despite the fact neither Lloyd or screenwriter Abi Morgan are capable of conveying either effectively.

At least the eons better King’s Speech – which conveniently sidestepped Bertie’s more controversial moments in power – had the wisdom to focus on a small aspect of his Kingship (notably, his delivery of a speech) and managed to paint an effective and affecting portrait of his character. The Iron Lady tries the kitchen sink approach; no, not by evoking the kitchen sink dramas of Ken Loach, but rather by attempting to cover every single facet of Maggie’s existence in just over 100 minutes. How could they have expected the final product to be anything other than reductive?

By hammering home the female empowerment angle, The Iron Lady ends up succumbing to the sexism it supposedly rails against. The film piggybacks one prejudice to enforce another, groundlessly dismissing the disenfranchised and stifling political discussion as well as differences of opinion. It does a disservice to almost everyone. Even Thatcher. We see her as a doddering old lady slowly going mad, talking to her late hubby and howling for the ravens to stop rapping at her chamber door (or something). But why? So we pity her? Isn’t that the laziest way to absolve a character of their ethically dubious choices? Why feel for, relate, be compelled, or even challenged by an elderly woman who has almost no opinion on the life she’s lived? What’s the point of spending time with a character at the end of their time on this earthly plane when they reflect on the actions of their past without a critical eye? I’m not asking to see a Thatcher plagued with guilt; I’m merely asking to see a Thatcher that feels real.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Iron Lady arrives in Australian cinemas December 26, 2011.

10 Responses to “Maggie, actually – The Iron Lady review”

  1. Why is there not a “Like” button somewhere on these pages? I’d Like just about all your reviews but I’d try to double-Like this one.

  2. Simon, you are arguably the worst movie critic I’ve ever read.

  3. Agree with adsky 🙂

  4. Simon, I don’t want to know your politics I just want to know about the film.

  5. I thought this movie was brilliant. Doesn’t matter whether you loathed or loved Maggie. Meryl Streep’s performance was awesome and not just because she took her off so well. It was a snapshot of her life against a backdrop of the amazing time in which she lived and held power. She was shown as a sad old lady (which may or may not be true) suffering from ‘old timer’s disease’ but it also showed her when she was at the height of her power and how she used all her strengths and female manipulative skills to outwit the rest of them. She made some terrible decisions but you had to admire her for standing by her principles if nothing else! Go and see it, don’t be put off by by one person’s opinion.

  6. One of the best films I’ve seen. Meryl Streep in magnificent form as usual, is certainly Oscar material for her role as Maggie Thatcher. Both of these women will go down in history.

    I’m surprised you engage Simon to review your films. They are misleading. His review of this film is both appalling and biassed.

    • May I refer and recommend to those interested, the excellent and unbiased review of The Iron Lady by Bruce Anderson of The Telegraph in Friday’s Melbourne Age on the Comment & Debate page. There you can read an accurate and fascinating synopsis of the film. Amongst many other things, he describes The Thatcher biopic is an enthralling work of force and pathos.

  7. This is undoubtedly the worst and most transparently biased review I have ever read. Simon, leave your politics at the door.

  8. That’s the great thing about opinions, Bobby, we don’t have to “leave them at the door”. Politics, religion, sex, gender, race… they all inform every movie we watch. We bring our past experiences to movies like “The Iron Lady” and “Weekend” and “Melancholia” and “Bridesmaids” and so on. That’s what makes us unique. The very idea of Margaret Thatcher was that she wanted to make a difference, so it seems silly to then view a film of her life with a blank slate. We know who is and what she did, and if you personally find that that changes how you view the film then so be it. Someone who has suffered depression will surely have a different reaction to “Melancholia” and “Bridesmaids” than someone who hasn’t. We can’t just erase that from ourselves.

    That being said, Diana Allen… if you’re interested in reviews that are little more than a “fascinating synopsis” then I suggest reading the official website. Critics are meant to actually dig a little deeper than that.


  1. News: 76% The Iron Lady | News 25/7! Delivering news in real time - December 19, 2011

    […] tone-deaf, hamfisted, gauche, funhouse-mirror version is similarly misguided. December 13, 2011 Full Review | […]

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