Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Iron Lady (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Iron Lady

The much awaited "The Iron Lady" has come to The Tropic and Meryl Streep in her role of Margaret Thatcher makes it well worth the wait. She is a startling chameleon: a veritable political ice queen with a tea and biscuit complexion.
Streep doesn't so much borrow Thatcher's soul as she inhabits it like a dramatic virus. She moves differently through space. She breathes differently. The airy spontaneity that we see embodied in Meryl Streep on talk shows is gone. Streep's Thatcher is a person that steamrolls  through life with the philosophy of 'my England Right or Wrong" (and invariably always Right). Yet "The Iron Lady" is a very human film and Streep's milestone performance will nip at your heart.

The film is impressionistic and told primarily in flashbacks. Rather than a linear storyline, the action unfolds in layers, pacing between aged Thatcher and young Conservative Margaret Roberts. The motion of the story is collage-like and fluid, interspersed with lively splurges on the Punk movement in the 1970s, coupled with bold Orwellian overtones that echo Stanley Kubrick and the controversial "Spitting Image" puppets. Stylistically the film shines with bold close ups and claustrophobic shots of males eating rapaciously in their razor-black shoes while a young Maggie Thatcher tries to squeeze her way through the House of Commons. This interpretation may not to be all tastes, but it makes for lively viewing, giving color and verve to what could have been a gray drudgery.

When we first see Maggie she is old and addled in a grocery store. Gradually with the surface pathos of an Andy Warhol portrait, we are hit with a contrast of images: a ghostly Thatcher who is haunted by the goggle-eyed haunts of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). Thatcher spins and giggles in senility, as Denis both delights and chastises her. Then she is young again, as a blueberry eyed Conservative with the fire of Freedom in her eyes. Under less sensitive hands, these scenes could be maudlin, silly and overbearing, but Broadbent and Streep give authentic comic weight to the experience of loss and living with someone for a lifetime. 

We experience a good slice of Thatcher's life in Streep's frost-fired eyes---her face is an eerie organic mask of overwhelming intent. One step above Leonardo Di Caprio in "J. Edgar". 

This is no hatchet job. We see both the good and the bad of Thatcher. (the atrocity of strikes, the deadliness of the Falklands, the end of The Cold war with Russia). She stormed through it all and had no patience for passivity.
Our last image of Thatcher in the film is one of loss and wandering. There are echoes of  Samuel Beckett here as the lighting slowly dims on film.What a wonderful revelation: that Phyllida Lloyd, director of the notoriously ridiculed film "Mamma Mia!" would be the one to give such a vibrant and well-dressed portrait of "The Iron Lady". It is not a question whether Thatcher is seen at her best here, rather we get the impression that we see her as she is, in totality, and that is the best in film trickery that we can ask for.

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