Name a 21rst century movie about a famous, outstanding British woman suffering from Alzheimer’s with a devoted husband played by the noted British actor Jim Broadbent. “Iris” you say correctly, referring to the 2001 film about the author Iris Murdoch - but wait, here’s another that fits exactly the same description. “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as a demented Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as her loyal spouse has so much wrong with it that perhaps its reprisal of another scenario is the least of its sins. Nevertheless, it bears mention since the decision to cast a bio-pic about England’s first woman prime-minister in the context of her doddering senility is not only wrong-headed but derivative to boot.
The critical reception of this film has been appropriately dismal, even from those critics who share the screenwriter’s patently obvious disdain for its subject. If you are not old enough to have lived through Thatcher’s ground-breaking terms of office, you will not learn very much from this movie about what made her a formidable force in the world. All the political information is delivered in the same way - as close-up scenes of angry male faces usually yelling at her and only occasionally cheering her on. It is as if the director studied all the Pathe Newsreels prevalent in the 40’s and 50’s and used that concept to shape the entire film. Every issue is distilled to a polemicized sound-bite lacking nuance or distinction; relationships are capsulized to brief, cartoonish depictions; an Oxford educated chemist and subsuequent barrister is portrayed as a woman too dense to notice her presumed detachment from the people closest to her. Reductio ad absurdum is the prevailing mantra in this waste of great talent , particularly in the case of Meryl Streep, an actress capable of making us see the tiniest flicker of emotion cross her face, here forced to deliver most of her lines with strident bravado. As in the movie about J. Edgar Hoover, the process of aging relies less on the considerable skill of the performers than on the heavy-handed slather of makeup artists, a feat that becomes annoyingly intrusive as so much of both these movies involve close-up camera angles.
What irony that the woman who shattered the glass ceiling of government in the western world, who reversed the economic decline in Great Britain, who joined President Reagan in forcing the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, who insisted on the need to emphasize our pride in western values should be remembered in such a trite and mediocre movie. You can learn more about Baroness Thatcher, the woman who disapproved of wasting time, by reading the brief Wikipedia entry about her than by spending two hours viewing “The Iron Lady.” And, if you want to see a great movie about a loving, long-married couple devastated by the advent of senile dementia, do see “Iris” starring Judy Dench and Jim Broadbent - it will leave you stirred and shaken.
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