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With: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Iain Glen, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Harry Lloyd, Roger Allam, Olivia Colman, Teresa Mahoney, Alexandra Roach, Nicholas Farrell, John Sessions, Susan Brown, Julian Wadham
Written by: Abi Morgan
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity
Running Time: 105
Date: 12/26/2011

The Iron Lady (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Thatcher in the Sty

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Growing up listening to lots of punk music, I've heard the name "Margaret Thatcher" spit out of the lips of many angry punk rockers. Knowing only this, and that she was Prime Minister of England during the 1980s, and not much else, I needed Phyllida Lloyd's new biopic The Iron Lady to do a little extra work. I needed to be convinced that she was someone that deserved a biopic.

This movie doesn't do that. It marches straight ahead on the assumption that, just because she was England's first female Prime Minister, she's a pioneering feminist. After that, Lloyd simply ignores Thatcher's politics, instead applauding her for being so bold and ballsy in rooms full of men. Amazingly, the writer of this shallow, short-sighted stuff, Abi Morgan, also co-wrote one of this season's deepest and most sensitive character studies, Shame.

In The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep plays Thatcher, and it's a spectacular impersonation. It must have been easy for Streep, who is arguably the greatest living cinema actor, but because the material isn't there, her work never achieves any depth. It remains on the surface, like a long, unfunny "Saturday Night Live" sketch. It's also similar to her Julia Child from 2009, but without that movie's lightness. (The Iron Lady is, conversely, very heavy.)

Lloyd, the director of the abysmal Mamma Mia! (2008), was probably not the right person for this job. It's a surface work, relying on way too many little goofy montages to fill in the blanks in Thatcher's career. It also cooks up the annoying gimmick of focusing on an aged, doddering, retired Thatcher, who speaks to the ghost of her dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent).

In this, the movie very nearly plays with the idea of the unreliable narrator, which Clint Eastwood used so much more cannily and cleverly in J. Edgar. But from the look of The Iron Lady, it's unclear whether Lloyd even realized that the unreliable narrator was a possibility. It would suggest that her hero was less than a hero, which she probably did not want to hear.

As in most biopics, all the other characters get lost. I remember seeing Richard E. Grant from time to time, and it made me wish I were watching Withnail & I instead.

Anchor Bay released a three-disc set, which includes a Blu-Ray, a DVD, and a digital copy -- overkill for a movie that no one is ever going to watch again. (Ms. Streep won her third Oscar for this role, though it's by far the worst movie she has ever been nominated for.) It includes several little studio-approved featurettes, and -- perhaps more annoyingly -- a little celebration of all the Weinstein prestige projects from the fall of 2011.

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