(2011) Biodrama (Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Allam, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Susan Brown, Julian Wadham, Pip Torrens, Nick Dunning, David Westhead, Amanda Root. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Few political figures of the late 20th century are as polarizing as Margaret Thatcher. Conservatives revere her for her fiscal frugality and willingness to go to war to protect British soil; liberals despise her for…well, pretty much the same things. By all accounts her personality was forceful and charismatic; she had a will of steel that bent to nothing and nobody, and when she set her sights on something, she inevitably would achieve it.
Her biopic starts with Thatcher (Streep) long retired from politics, wandering into a corner grocer for a pint of milk. She goes unrecognized by the other patrons of the shop; she grouses about the price of milk as any other consumer might. When she gets home, there is consternation; apparently she wasn’t supposed to wander off by herself and nobody knew where she was.
It turns out that Mrs. Thatcher has a touch of dementia. For one thing, she’s speaking with her husband Denis (Broadbent) – even though he’s been dead and gone for five years. Her daughter Carol (Colman) is urging her mother to clean out her father’s things from the closet. It’s long overdue for her to say goodbye. So she begins the heart-wrenching task of going through her late husband’s things, some of which send her on trips down memory lane – what we film freaks like to call “flashbacks.”
We meet Margaret (Roach) as a young woman, a grocer’s daughter as London is enduring the Blitz. She’s plucky (some might say foolish) enough to run upstairs during a bombing to cover the butter. She idolizes her father who has some ultimately unfulfilled political aspirations. She develops some of her own, although getting into the male-dominated Tory party and winning a seat in the House of Commons proves challenging. She also meets young businessman Denis Thatcher (Lloyd) who proposes marriage which she accepts.
She eventually wins through and earns the respect of some of her peers for her strength of character and intelligence. She is mentored by Airey Neave (Fellows), a savvy politician who is later assassinated by the IRA. This is partially responsible for her lifelong hatred of terrorism and her refusal to give into it. She continues to rise in the party until she arrives as Prime Minister, a position she will be elected to for three terms and the only female to date elected to the position.
But the movie doesn’t really focus on her political career, although it is necessarily a part of her story. Nor does it take a position pro or con regarding her politics. Director Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan take great pains to remain neutral; somehow I suspect that they admired the woman but not her policies.
The attraction here is Streep. She deservedly won the Oscar earlier this year for her performance which is quite frankly one of the finest of her illustrious career. She captures the nuances of Thatcher’s mannerisms, yes – but so could any mimic. What she does that makes her performance scintillating is capture the essence of her character, from the force of nature presence as a world leader to a confused and sometimes frustrated old woman who no longer commands power or respect.
It is the latter aspect that conservatives have railed against this film for. Thatcher has largely stayed out of the public eye for the past 25 years since her somewhat painful ouster which apparently angered her greatly. There has been some speculation that she, like her good friend Ronald Reagan, might be the victim of Alzheimer’s Disease – which quite frankly is just that. I personally think it takes just as much courage to take on the ravages of old age as it does a hostile Labour party.
The movie overall doesn’t match Streep’s performance, sadly. Although Broadbent does a good job in his role, most of the other performances are lost and quite frankly I had a difficult time telling the players apart. There is a lot of archival footage to help tell Thatcher’s tale but at the end of the day it is Streep who’s remarkable Oscar-winning performance elevates this movie above a Biography channel piece and gives life to Thatcher, something that the rest of the movie failed to do.
WHY RENT THIS: Streep’s justifiable Oscar-winning performance. Interesting story-telling style.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks insight into her political decisions and glosses over her more controversial policies.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some images of violence as well as brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won both of the Oscars it was nominated for (the other being Best Make-Up), a rare feat that had previously been accomplished by Ed Wood.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While mostly the standard promotional stuff, there is a pretty decent featurette on the role the real Denis Thatcher played in her life.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $114.9M on an unreported production budget; the movie was likely a box office hit.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nixon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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