Oh, Meryl. Is there anything you can’t do? You’ve been nominated for 16 Academy Awards, won two, and recently became the oldest cover star in the history of Vogue magazine. Now you’re racking up rave reviews for your stunning performance as Margaret Thatcher, a woman slightly less whimsical than say, Julia Child, but a woman who you nonetheless convince us to root for. This is what’s confusing about The Iron Lady (directed by Phyllida Lloyd)—Streep is so good as Thatcher that you sort of forget you’re cheering for somebody you maybe shouldn’t be. Granted, I’m no expert on British history, but anybody that friendly with Ronald Reagan makes me nervous.
The movie begins with an aging Thatcher struggling to dispose of her late husband’s belongings and move on with her life. As she putters around her home, she has flashbacks to important moments in her career—winning her first election, her appointment as Education Secretary, the IRA bombing that almost killed her. It’s not the most creative framing device, but it gets the job done (though it’s sort of bizarre to see a living woman portrayed on screen as if she’s already dead). Streep really shines in these scenes, particularly when she’s dressing down her opponents or working on perfecting her public image.
The costumes and makeup are also flawless. Anyone who saw J. Edgar knows that old-age makeup is an extremely tricky proposition, but Streep looks totally believable as an 86-year-old in the present-day scenes. Overall, though, the movie feels like it’s missing something. Because the action unfolds solely from Thatcher’s point of view, it’s hard to figure out the context of the individual events she remembers. This makes everything feel weirdly ahistorical, which is disconcerting for a movie that's supposed to be based in reality. But all of the film’s flaws melt away in the face of another great performance by Streep. She’s definitely gunning for another win, and God help anyone who tries to defy the Iron Lady.