The Iron Lady

Love her or hate her, the Iron Lady is everywhere. But NICOLA BARTLETT isn’t convinced.

average biopic conservatives Feminism Film margaret thatcher Meryl Streep Movie Nicola Bartlett Phyllida Lloyd politics right wing The Iron Lady three stars tory

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.


There are many reasons to go and see a film about Margaret Thatcher, a woman who is loved and loathed in equal measure. But Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic, showing a retrospective of her life through the veil of her dementia, may not satisfy either camp.

The narrative begins in the present day with the elderly Thatcher talking to her deceased husband. Over the course of her day she encounters objects that take her back to moments in her political career. It is an interesting approach, if used rather crudely. The poignance of her conversations with Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) is undermined by his surprisingly silly remarks.

True Blue: Meryl as Maggie

The recreations of figures from the world of politics past are in many cases scarily accurate and it’s fun to play political who’s who. It is perhaps not unintentional that they seem like squabbling schoolboys faced with the matronly figure of their leader. Although Meryl Streep’s sheer screen presence is impressive and her recreation of Maggie is unquestionably a masterpiece, there is more to acting than impersonation, and at points the film’s fixation on superficial accuracy is at the expense of any real vibrancy in the characters.

Whether Margaret Thatcher is a feminist icon or not, there is little doubt that Phyllida Lloyd chooses to portray her as such. When Thatcher first enters the Commons her characteristic bright blue is the only flash of colour against a swarm of black suits: rather inaccurately, the benches on both sides of the House are devoid of any other female presence. Ridiculed for the way she speaks, she is a woman in a man’s world, but this is a vast oversimplification. Thatcher herself rejected the term ‘feminist’ and proudly declared that she owed nothing to Women’s Lib.

The Iron Lady shows little character development in its eponymous heroine. She repeatedly refers to the struggle which she went through to become our first female Prime Minister. But her development from wide-eyed girl to forgetful and confused old lady is shown through a series of clumsy tableaux rather than any true character delineation. Film should show rather than tell – yet in an hour and forty minutes this wasn’t achieved.

This film is visually impressive, and Lloyd has clearly made efforts to show a fair, and remarkably apolitical, portrait of a divisive figure. But watching it was not altogether a pleasant experience. It felt rather too intimate: voyeuristically examining a woman who would hate to show even the slightest hint of weakness. An uncomfortable position wherever you find yourself on the political spectrum.