Movie Review (2012)
Film: “The Iron Lady”
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
The test of democracy is when a woman has as much right to a position of power as any man. Yet, if you look into the history of the western world, you’ll realise that most aren’t true ‘democracies’. For most of them, including the US, has had no woman ruler. A notable exception, though controversial, is Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.
Thus beyond the politics of that woman, lies the politics of gender against which she rose and captured the world’s imagination. In the same vein, beyond the politics of the film “The Iron Lady” lies a film about ambition, of a woman in a man’s world. And in that respect, this is one tough nut of a film, just like the lady it portrays.
Yet this biopic of Thatcher steers clear of any controversies and instead skims the surface in an attempt to truly show her as the ‘Iron Lady’. It is this attempt that works for the film, but distorts its politics and intention.
There is no denying that Thatcher was every bit of the lady of conviction the film portrays. But conviction itself is not a guarantee of correctness. If it were, we’d be worshipping Hitler, and Bollywood would be sweeping global film awards. In hiding much of Thatcher’s bad politics, which is perhaps the reason why Britain is in such a soup, that the film tries to ameliorate her past.
Yet beyond the film’s covert intentions lies a woman who dominated world politics like few men have done, played by a woman who has dominated the space inside the four walls of a picture frame like few ever have. And therein lies the casting coup of the new millennium.
With 17 Academy Award nomination (three wins) and 26 Golden Globe nominations (eight wins), both more than any man or woman, Meryl Streep is clearly the ‘Iron Lady’ of cinema.
And in portraying the Iron Lady of politics, she exactly shows why she is who she is. The film is indeed a complete Streep show from the beginning to the end.
There are other very good actors, but all of them pale in front of her domineering presence so much so that when you see her on screen, it is as if it is not Thatcher that is on the prowl, but the unstoppable Terminator himself.
On another side, the film also shows the other side of a woman desperate to rise and control everything around. You cannot seek to control so much and not break up in the process. Thus her hallucinations, and moments of dementia are like the price she has had to pay to be an woman with ambitions higher than a man’s in a patriarchal world.
This battle of wits between this lone woman and men around is the high point of the film. It is also captured evocatively in beautiful montages like the one of being the only sandal in an ocean of shoes or being the only blue dress in a sea of black men’s coat, or being seated in the furthest seat from the man in power, et al.
These, and many other deft touches, force you to forget the politics of the film, and focus on the politics that both made and broke the woman being portrayed. And that in itself is a great triumph for any film anywhere.