The Iron Lady (12A.)
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Starring Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Iain Glen, Anthony Head and Richard E.Grant. 105 mins.
Yesterday’s outlandish satire is today’s Oscar Pleader. 24 years ago The Comic Strip’s The Strike gave us a Hollywood version of the Miner’s Strike starring Al Pacino as Arthur Scargill and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. It all seemed so ridiculous back then but here we have the first lady of cinema done up in pearl twin set and blue suit earnestly imploring the academy with another pinpoint accent: “One had a grocer’s shop in Grantham.”
The Iron Lady is a grisly affair but in ways no satirist could imagine. It has a fantastic opening scene: Thatcher the milk snatcher, now a frail elderly pensioner struggling to the corner shop to buy milk, being taken aback by the price of a pint and getting to fully appreciate that now there really is no longer such thing as society, being brusquely treated by staff and other shoppers.
Abi (Shame, The Hour) Morgan’s script opts for a flashback structure. The framing device is a contemporary Thatcher stuck at home, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and chatting to her hallucination of husband Dennis (Broadbent.) The idea of a woman of such certainty having to deal with the loss of that quality is an interesting one but not whole-film interesting. And this is the framing device that just won’t quit.
The problem is that despite the record breaking success of Lloyd and Streep’s previous collaboration, Mamma Mia, it is clear that nobody much has chipped in for their latest venture. It’s like a BBC4 drama but with an even smaller budget. The model for this film is not Oliver Stone’s sprawling Nixon but rather Robert Altman’s Secret Honour, a monologue is which a drunken Nixon rages about Watergate. The film is basically a Maggie/ Denis double act prompting the occasional brief, tightly framed (no money for extras) flashbacks to significant moments of her career.
The omissions and simplifications render the film risible. Overlooking Keith Joseph is one thing (though that’s the Yoda figure gone) but largely ignoring the Miner’s Strike is jaw dropping. Also making no reference to the “there is no such thing as society” quote is like making Einstein’s life story without mentioning E=MC2.
Meryl makes a good Mrs T but there’s nothing in the film other than her performance. So much so it resembles a production where every other character is a figment of the central characters imagination. That the film is a travesty is no surprise; that it is so dull and utterly pointless is.