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IRON LADY, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Young Margaret Thatcher (Alexandra Roach) enters politics as a Conservative MP for Finchley in the late 1950s as a wilful young woman, brought up with a code of ethics by her grocer father Alfred Roberts (Iain Glen). In 1975, Thatcher (Meryl Streep) bemoans the lack of leadership in the party and successfully stands against Edward Heath (John Sessions) - and four years later wins the election to become Prime Minister. Determined to cut Government spending and break the power of the unions, she pushes through laws that divide the nation. She also takes the country to war against Argentina after the Falklands Islands are invaded. She is always supported by her husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) but challenged by Michael Heseltine (Richard E. Grant).

Review by Louise Keller:
All eyes are on Meryl Streep in what must be the most extraordinary performance of the year - her eerily authentic portrayal of Maggie Thatcher. Beyond the distinctive Thatcher voice and mannerism, there are superb prosthetics, make up, hair and costumes, but it's the nuances instilled by Streep that makes it Oscar worthy and deserving of every major film accolade. The screenplay by Abi Morgan, who also penned the sensational upcoming film Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, explores the essence of the longest serving British Prime Minister, both in political and personal terms. It's a fascinating film about a tough woman determined to make a difference, although the narrative, embracing the past and the present, is not as satisfying as I had hoped.

While we can be assured of historical accuracy, it is not only the history buffs who will be interested in this film. It is not too long ago to remember the tumultuous times of Thatcher's hard-line against the trade unions and her contribution to the close of the Cold War. But this is not a documentary about the life and times of Margaret Thatcher. The film takes a far more personal view and inside glimpse of a Prime Minister, a wife and a mother, while touching on the political climate during her reign.

When the film begins, Thatcher is in her 80s, and although husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) has died some years earlier, it is not until now that she is able to face clearing out his clothes and personal items. Although she strongly denies she has hallucinations, Dennis is a constant presence at her shoulder, keeping her company, conversing with her and reminding her of times gone by.

Simple triggers, like the signing of her autobiography with her maiden name of Roberts by mistake, become the mechanism to transport us into the past, the narrative flitting back and forth. Finding a DVD of The King and I reminds Thatcher of happy times when she and Denis danced to Rogers and Hammerstein's catchy tunes. (Great casting with Alexandra Roach playing the young Thatcher to Harry Lloyd's young Denis.)

Whatever you may think of Thatcher's politics, there is no denying her strength of character and spirit. She is brave, austere and at times insufferable, but for all the right reasons. There's poignancy in the wife husband relationship which is nicely portrayed. It might not seem a foregone conclusion that the director of Mama Mia takes the helm of this project, but Phyllida Lloyd tackles the challenge with gusto, despite too much emphasis on the later years. Thoughts, ideas, words and actions are what motivate the Oxford graduate daughter of a grocer, who always preferred the company of men to women. Watching The Iron Lady, I couldn't help but think that Meryl Streep in her performance is as formidable as Thatcher herself.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
We are not disappointed by Meryl Streep's magical interpretation of Margaret Thatcher, but we are a bit disappointed in the story telling in this much awaited biopic. Perhaps our expectations are too high, but the film claims to show the price Thatcher paid for her success as a woman with great power. This is but a faint thread in the film, which is told as a series of flashbacks by the aged widow Thatcher. Too much of the film is devoted to this persona, which the public has hardly ever seen.

We feel a tad cheated about this, because what we are waiting for is Thatcher at her iron willed best, articulating her world view and fighting for it with reasoned argument. We see glimpses, of course, when she berates the Conservative cabinet or when she takes the hawkish decision to give Argentina hell for daring to steal the Falklands. But not enough; and too often Thatcher is shown as if the filmmakers are telling anecdotes about this woman who ruled Britain with a set of pearls and a well developed sense of doing what she thought was right, not what might have been popular.

Director Phyllida Lloyd poses Streep, rather than directs her, but Streep is so immersed in the character she manages to break out of the poses to deliver a recognisable Thatcher, a real person, even when burdened by layers of (wonderful) make up and prosthetics. Of course, we have to believe this is Thatcher, first and foremost. But the invasion of privacy in which the film indulges should have a much bigger payoff; as it is, we are bemused by the ageing Thatcher imagining Denis by her side, talking to him, arguing and quibbling ... sweet and endearing, but just not enough material of substance.

Jim Broadbent has a wonderful time as Denis, slightly kooky, always endearing, ever faithful and supportive. Too good to be true? Maybe not.

Some of the essential guts of the Thatcher story is told in such a perfunctory manner as to suggest the filmmakers were not so interested in the very details that made her such an iconic political figure, but in the outer edges, the domestic and family aspects - all of which are beyond our gaze. Lloyd goes to a lot of trouble setting up the Thatcher legend, but then fails to flesh it out.

The film ends on a melancholy note, emphasising the film's focus on an old Thatcher absent from the fray, a woman we don't know nor relate to.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

IRON LADY, THE (M)
(UK, 2011)

CAST: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Olivia Colman, Roger Allam, Reginald Green, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd,

PRODUCER: Damian Jones

DIRECTOR: Phyllida Lloyd

SCRIPT: Abi Morgan

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Elliot Davis

EDITOR: Justine Wright

MUSIC: Thomas Newman, Clint Mansell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Elliott

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2011







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