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The Iron Lady

13 Jan

The Iron Lady — directed by Phillida Lloyd. Biopic. A woman entering senility is visited by recollections of her career in British politics which lead her to become Prime Minister. 105 minutes Color 2011.

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Because I neither watch nor read the news, I never saw Margaret Thatcher on television or heard her speak or paid attention to her work in office. So I cannot tell whether Meryl Streep is good at being Margaret Thatcher, but I do know that she is superb at not being Meryl Streep. For I do not see the actress in the performance. I see an old woman moving through her apartment, somewhat stooped with age, and not quite compos mentis, but also far from playing mad scenes, far from helpless or deranged. Her husband, admirably played, of course, by Jim Broadbent, has died some years before, but visits her here and in memory. Like a woman of good sense this both amuses and annoys her. We see her in her younger days start out with him, and proceed to enter politics and eventually take over the government, but none of these scenes are developed – partly because there is no antagonist in the film. There are The Males Of The World Of Politics and there are The People, but there is no individual and there is no ideology opposing her. She opposes. But that is her nature. Her husband has her number but she herself does not. So what we get is a portrait of an absolutist. She is always sure of herself. She never questions herself or her notions. It is a drama without a drama, that is to say,  with a protagonist but without an antagonist until she becomes the antagonist of herself, and, in a scene of astounding rudeness, makes the error of unconsciously demoting herself from Prime Minister to hectoring schoolmistress by scolding her cabinet ministers. She doesn’t get it, but it is the end of her. Her cabinet may accept her commands but not her demeans. All of this has a certain civics lesson merit, and in it we see at once her innocence and her humorlessness. But what interested me most was how she was in that apartment, just walking around from room to room, a person who seems to have forgotten she held great power once and not troubled at all that it is no longer hers. A woman who has to crack an egg, deal with over-solicitous helpers, get her pearls off and on. The ordinariness of these scenes, and they dominate, brings forward a human being unguarded, smart, and willing to live. It is fascinating to watch. It is an enactment of an historical figure largely in moments which are not historical, and as such it provides a riveting entertainment. Streep does not give a bravura performance here. You might say it is not a performance at all. It is a being being a being. It hardly matters that the being happens to be called Margaret Thatcher. As to the movie itself — never mind about the movie. It is a setting for a diamond.

 
 
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