Keeping Up Appearances
"Don't Want to Dig Around Too Much, M'. You Don't Know What You Might Find."
The Weinstein's last bid in 2011 to win an audience of Anglophiles seems a trifle desperate and might be a bit too early to give the subject proper justice, like Oliver Stone's Nixon or W.—we're still too close to the Thatcher years to have any sort of perspective, other than a cursory glance at the events that shaped the Conservative years of the '80's. What damage was done, what was gained, is still unknowable, especially given the subsequent Blair years and how British-American relationships changed and coalesced. We get highlights and lowlights, but no illumination, and, instead, we get a look-back, not unlike Nixon's drunken reverie, but this time filtered through Maggie's Alzheimic reflections, with the dementia-figure of her dead husband Denis' presence as a Iago-like devil's advocate (played by Jim Broadbent, in just the way you think he would, a little dotty, but with a puckish edge). Really, both of them deserve a little better, no matter what one thinks of the politics.
But, the Alzheimer's is a good tool if someone wants to do a hatchet-job. The disease brings the past into crystal clarity (for the afflicted, not for the story-teller), while also undercutting the reliability of the narrator in the present day. Hardly seems fair, as the two women who wrote and directed The Iron Lady (Abi Morgan and Phyllida Lloyd) do seem sincere about presenting the hurdles that Thatcher had to overcome in her ambition to seek change, achieve office, and, in becoming a political animal, save her party and become PM. The role could have easily gone into caricature, were it not for Thatcher's best supporter in the film, Meryl Streep .
The role ultimately won LaStreep another Oscar (and, say what you will about the "unfairness of it all," she does deserve it—this is an amazing performance) and it contains her hallmark studied approach with the same intricate nuances she brings to every role—the rock-solid accent, the filigreed gestures, the interesting way she fills up the pauses and held-shots with interesting choices that are unexpected, but deeply felt. In the elderly sections, she doesn't quite have the "thousand-yard-stare" I've seen in Alzheimer's patients, but the frailties are there, right down to the quaking-arms-under-pressure and the processing pauses that flash through without making a big deal of them. Streep's always good, good enough that one might take her for granted, but this one's practically a one-woman show and certainly the best thing in a film that's "too little-too soon."
The Iron Lady is a Rental.