Popcorn Picks: The Iron Lady

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Richard E. Grant

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Genre: Drama/Historical

Rated: PG-13

Choice Quote:  “Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No.” -Margaret Thatcher, defending her spending cuts to her own cabinet

What’s it about?: Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister and one of the most divisive political figures of the 20th century. The film begins with an elderly, modern day Margaret as she struggles with the dementia that brings about spectral visions and flashbacks to events that occurred over the course of the last seven decades. It’s through these flashbacks that the story of Thatcher’s life is told, from a young shopkeeper hiding beneath her father’s store during Nazi bombing raids to her rise through municipal politics all the way to the defiant battles she fought in the Falkland Islands and against the worker’s unions from the Prime Minister’s seat. Along the way the film shows how her tireless work ethic affected her family life, from neglecting her children to not even noticing when her husband Dennis got so angry with her that he fled to South Africa.

The film goes back and forth between historical reminiscences and Thatcher’s modern-day struggle with both dementia and regrets, and it’s difficult to gage which is more of a burden. As Dennis tells her while viewing old home films of her young children, “You can rewind it, but you can’t change it.”

Is it any good?: Film roles that involve playing high-profile Brits seem to bode well for actors these days. Helen Mirren won an Academy Award in 2006 for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, Colin Firth won last year for his turn as King George VI in The King’s Speech, and bets are already being placed for a Streep win this year.

And while Meryl Streep Oscar predictions are as predictable as snow in February, they’re also entirely deserved. Her performance in The Iron Lady is no exception. Consider this: throughout the film Streep plays the same woman in various stages of life from middle age to senior citizen, from healthy to afflicted, from sound of mind to dementia-sufferer, and she’s brilliant in every scene. From her bang-on accent to her poise and attitude she evokes both the frustratingly stubborn Thatcher and the heartbreakingly vulnerable Margaret.

Lost in the flood of praise for Streep is the wonderful performance of Jim Broadbent in the bittersweet role of Thatcher’s deceased husband Dennis. While not a character as meaty as Streep’s, he plays his part so believably that the film is that much better for him being in it. His laid-back air and levity his kooky sense of humour brings provide a perfectly lovable antithesis to a Thatcher who’s often as cold as the blue of her jacket. They’re a classic odd couple who may end up leaving you reaching for a tissue.

While the rest of the cast is solid, if not stand-out, special mention should go to Alexandra Roach, who plays a well-tuned young Margaret during a transition in her life where she attempts to balance life with her new husband with the determination required to break down the walls of a male-dominated arena.

Depending on your opinion of the real Margaret Thatcher, this film either got it just right or went too easy on her. At a running time under two hours it does speed through her political career, though a fair balance depicting the stubborn Thatcher who prefers might over diplomacy and Margaret, the woman who harbours the noble ambition to make a difference in the world, is struck. Still, one thing everyone can agree on is that whether it’s a fair or fictional reminiscence of Thatcher, Meryl Streep portrays her brilliantly.

Can I bring my kinds and grandkids to see it?: Absolutely. Even if they have no context regarding Margaret Thatcher’s career, the film is captivating enough to hold the attention of anyone in their teens and up.  

See it in theatres or rent it?: Don’t deprive yourself of this fantastic performance from both Streep and Broadbent by waiting for the DVD.

Overall Popcorn Rating: 4 kernels (out of 5)

The Iron Lady opens Friday, January 13 nationwide.

– Mike Crisolago