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The Iron Lady

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The Iron Lady

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Opens Jan. 13

Recently, a co-worker expressed a mixture of anticipation and caution regarding The Iron Lady, the Meryl Streep-headlined biopic of the controversial former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “I know Streep is going to be make me like Thatcher, but I don’t want to like her,” he said.

It’s a reasonable fear. To those who grew up in the shadow of Thatcher and her U.S. soulmate, Ronald Reagan, her vitriolic battles with miners, white-collar economic policies, and separatist foreign relations were at inexplicable odds with her lower-class background as a grocer’s daughter. Throw in domestic bombings and union strikes, and you have the recipe for a life story ripe for shading in and contextualizing. With Streep’s impeccable mimicry front and center—and it is something to behold, no matter the movie around her—It’s not unthinkable that one might emerge from the theater with a new appreciation of the Iron Lady.

Unfortunately, director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and writer Abi Morgan have no interest whatsoever in Thatcher’s policies or her legacy. The Iron Lady sidesteps any analysis of what she did in office and why in favor of a frustratingly cursory glance at the major moments in her life—how she met her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), the acrimony others launched at a woman in power, the Falklands War, the Irish issues—employed as filler for a broader look at Thatcher in her senior dotage. Her main thrust in this life story: cleaning out her late husband’s closet. No matter what your opinion is of Thatcher the politician, it can surely be agreed that this is no way to treat a highly successful person’s legacy.

The Iron Lady is a cowardly enterprise, one that dramatizes its subject’s conflict over balancing her demanding work life with raising a family by showing her practically running over her own crying children to get to Downing Street, then, decades later, having her watch old family videos of outings she missed. Does she register any of it? Does she feel any sense of longing or regret? It’s hard to tell, because here comes Alzheimer’s! Yes, Streep is remarkable, as she always is. She and Thatcher both deserve a much better movie.

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