We all know how great and revered an actress Meryl Streep is. Whatever she touches usually turns to gold. Streep’s performance as Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is gold though the film itself is a bronze. It is certainly a case of a single performance being much stronger than the entire film itself.
Phyllida Lloyd’s (Mamma Mia!) film tells the story of Margaret Thatcher in a flashback kind of way. We begin with an older Thatcher out at the corner store buying a pint of milk and being aghast at the price. Right away alarms went off for me. How was a former leader of one of the most powerful and influential nations out walking around without a security detail or bodyguard? Doesn’t seem very likely.
Once Mrs. Thatcher returns home we begin to see that she was not supposed to be out on her own and that everyone around her, including her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman – Hot Fuzz, Tyrannosaur), is worried about the former Prime Minister’s mental state. She seems to have the beginning of Alzheimer’s as she has long conversations with her dead husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent – Iris, Moulin Rouge!). Even she knows that he is dead and shouldn’t be caught by anyone talking to him.
Over the course of a couple of days Mrs. Thatcher has several flashbacks about her younger days, when she first met Denis, and her political career. The ups and downs are interesting. Between the economy, workers’ strikes and riots, the Irish, and the Falkland Islands there was never a dull moment in the years she was Prime Minister.
Rather than be the politically oriented film that I expected it to be, it was more of a film about the sadness associated with the awful disease that is Alzheimer’s. I think they missed the boat with the direction of the film. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister for 11 years and they were turbulent ones. She is still a controversial figure in British politics so the material that could have been mined is large. I was there to learn and did not accomplish that.
The choice to tell the story through flashbacks was also a misstep as it rendered the story a little muddled at times. It also steers itself away from any sort of controversial material. Unfortunately that is where the meat is in any political story. The concentration on her personal life was interesting but the two sides of the coin could have been examined in one biopic. The long, sad scenes about her reluctance to let go of her deceased husband and the ravages of the disease on the Iron Lady ended up being uncomfortable after a while.
It is especially sad that this is an opportunity wasted in that Meryl Streep is excellent as Thatcher. She IS Margaret Thatcher. There is no “acting” going on, Streep becomes Thatcher. The sublime actress disappears into the character. Due to the performance she has once again been nominated for an Oscar Award and is considered one of the frontrunners for the prize.