The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep, is about the life of an icon, the first female British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It is not at all what I had expected. A neat, clean, chronological account of Thatcher’s life was what I was looking forward to; what I got was a deeply personal, thought provoking film about power, the effects of power and coming to terms with one’s own life.
Streep, a name that inspires admiration at mere mention, portrays Thatcher from the age of 49, when she was elected the first female leader of the Conservative Party, to 86, when she has long been out of power, struggling to reconcile her mindset with her age. It is a demanding role to say the least, one that only Streep could be expected to take on. That said, the outcome of her performance could have gone one of two ways. Either she would capture the essence of Thatcher as dead-on as possible in two hours, or she would miss by a mile. In this instance, the former is true. While only Margaret Thatcher can truly be Margaret Thatcher (obviously), Streep exerts all of her efforts and manages to portray a believable Iron Lady.
The title, The Iron Lady, at first seems like a bit of an oxymoron. The film opens with an aged but still perfectly coiffed Thatcher buying milk at a convenience store. She totters home to caretakers — who whisper about her wellbeing behind her back — and a hallucination of her long-dead husband. At first glance, this woman is anything but iron. As we see Thatcher’s life, though, through a series of flashbacks, the word “iron” takes on a whole new meaning. From a determined grocer’s daughter, to leader of the Conservative Party, to prime minister, we watch as Thatcher remembers her life in all of its triumphs and failures.
In the film, we don’t see the first female prime minister of Britain, we don’t see a mother and we don’t see a wife; we see a human being, and all the struggles that accompany that role, even (and especially) for those entrusted with the responsibility of leading a nation. We watch as Thatcher remembers — wading through the political sea of men, holding fast in an onslaught of criticism, weathering the Falklands War and leaving power — while in the present trying to let go of the husband who was there with her through it all, trying to come to terms with old age and the ghosts of power and pressure. The term “iron lady” becomes more than fitting.
While Margaret Thatcher’s own opinion is maybe the only one that truly means something in this instance, I personally was deeply affected by this film. I will admit that at first, I felt a little bit let down because the film was so different from what I had expected. I had built up the film in my mind and what I saw on screen was somewhat less than what I had imagined. On further thought, though, I realized that “less” wasn’t what I was seeing at all. No, Margaret Thatcher was not the impermeable being I had built her up to be; she was the leader of Britain, a mother, and a friend. She loved, hated, cried and laughed just as every human will do in a lifetime. The film and Margaret Thatcher weren’t any less than I expected. They were far, far more.
The Iron Lady has been nominated for a 2012 Oscar. Go here to see a partial list of nominees.