The best that can be said for Phyllida Lloyd’s Margaret Thatcher biopic is that, while it’s condescending to its audience, remedial in the treatment of its subject, and unsatisfying in its narrative, it’s been run through a veritable menagerie of post-production twitches and timeline jumbling, to the point that viewers are at least partially anesthetized to the pain of Abi Morgan’s ham-fisted screenplay. Reducing the former Prime Minister’s life and work to an amalgamation of the last decade’s run of pop biopics (Iris, The King’s Speech, A Beautiful Mind), Morgan’s work, as it was for Steve McQueen’s Shame, which she co-wrote, is a circus of over-enunciation, a mausoleum with neon lights to guide the way.
Of course, as it has been observed a thousand times before, The Iron Lady is nothing more or less than a conveyor belt carrying Meryl Streep’s inevitable 17th Academy Award nomination. On the occasion of Postcards from the Edge, Pauline Kael wrote, with severely qualified admiration that bordered on dismay, about Streep’s robotic ability to inhabit characters while herself remaining a cipher. The subsequent 20 years have witnessed no cessation or abatement of Streep’s abilities, while her collection of accolades has multiplied in quantity, exponentially, like Tribbles.
If her films were to be ranked, in terms of hardcore marketing for the Oscar nomination, from “most brazen” to “least brazen,” The Iron Lady would land squarely in the upper third, partly because the film is just so much meaningless, gold-plated piffle. The smoking gun, however, appears in the form of the final title card, which unfurls the name “Meryl Streep,” in script, before there’s even so much as a fade to black, while the old, befogged battle axe she’s playing putters around her flat. The preceding film is transformed, instantly and retroactively, into an Academy Awards broadcast montage, the kind of highlights reel that’s inserted after a nominee’s name is read aloud. Not even Dreamgirls, which actually played its own acceptance music, over and over, or The Help, which gave itself a standing ovation, hit the nail on the head with such decisive, unerring force.
As for the Iron Lady herself, the film stirred up some notoriety among those for whom an appropriately respectful Thatcher biography would more closely resemble Salò, or A Serbian Film, so deep and wide do the currents of her infamy run. Given the evidence, it’s almost too much trouble to get in a tizzy over this bland thing, whose only apparent core principle (spelled out in marketing materials: “Never Compromise”) is feebly supported by a mishmash style of storytelling, wherein Thatcher’s legacy of criminal and administrative folly is merely a continuation of her defiant imperial blue wardrobe, as contrasted against the monolithic, ash-gray league of gentlemen. While the enterprise, on the whole, seems to reek of what we might term “stupefyingly naïve fascism apologia,” pleading “not guilty” by reason of Thatcher’s eventual descent into dementia (thereby fraying any threads that might connect her late, debilitated mental state, the brute, despotic stylings of her peak period, and her earliest struggles with the glass ceiling of British politics), Lloyd is a capable enough director, and the film is amorphous and weird enough, that the eye-rolling potential is minimized to its lowest theoretical point. In brief: Hey, it ain’t My Week with Marilyn.
As shot by ace cinematographer Elliot Davis, The Iron Lady's visual field is characterized by super-obvious symbolism, relying heavily on arty canted angles and psychedelic fisheye-lens shots; cameras whoosh through the House of Commons, while the elderly, demented Thatcher is beset by the delusional, haranguing ghost of her late husband. The Blu-ray admirably reproduces the fever-dream pageant of gray, blue, and pancake, while the 5.1 DTS-HD track adequately conveys the cacophonous echo chamber that was (and likely remains) Thatcher's inner monologue.
One longish making-of featurette, with a handful of tiny, two-and-half-minute featurettes crafted from its leavings. No commentary track. As this is a Weinstein Company product, the press-kit material attempts to enhance The Iron Lady's already bulging sense of self-importance. Such earth-shattering revelations include: "Her wardrobe and makeup are different later in the film than earlier, because Thatcher's life was like this, as opposed to that" and "We had a bunch of old actors fill out the House of Commons and they were happy to help." At the tail end is a prideful hodgepodge of promo material for all the other mediocre, history-prestige films the Weinsteins released in 2011, including The Artist, W.E., and My Week with Marilyn. A total display of the Weinsteins' history-through-embalming core philosophy.
A lodestone soufflé, an insincere apologia for the autocratic battle axe, or yet another resplendent shrine to the Streep Eternal: Whatever The Iron Lady is to you, Anchor Bay's Blu-ray will give you just-adequate satisfaction.