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The Iron Lady - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Event: -

Election Day, 1979: The very promising leader of the Conservative Party walks to the podium as she (that's right, the very first "she" in fact) emerges victorious, becoming the first (and to this day, only) female Prime Minister in Britain's history. This woman's name is of course Margaret Thatcher, here portrayed in this summer's ultimate 'Oscar Bait' picture, The Iron Lady.

Just when we thought Meryl Streep couldn't possibly go anywhere else given her track record and very impressive career, she has explored new territory. And guess what? She actually manages to trump it. This is her career-defining role, and in fifty years time this should be what she is remembered for in much the same way that Spencer Tracy's Oscar-nominated performance in Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming To Dinner [1967] confirmed his place as one of the greats. She looks and sounds exactly like Thatcher, and captures her domineering-yet-wholesome personality like no one else on Earth possibly could have. If she is not at least nominated for Best Actress at the upcoming Academy Awards, it will be an absolute crime.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia [2008]), it tells the story of Britain's longest-serving Prime Minister. Taking place in the present where Thatcher's health is deteriorating, the story is told through memory flashbacks as little signs in the present trigger her recollections. This is brilliantly edited and does well to handle the sheer scope of a story that includes a recession, the Falklands War, and the ending of the Cold War. At a runtime of 105 minutes, it concisely tells an often complex story, particularly for those who know nothing about Thatcher or what she did. While it focuses on her impact as a leader to not only Britain but the world - especially from a gender point of view - it is very careful to not side with her or against her. Lloyd paints a portrait of her using neutral colours, leaving it up to us to decide if we actually like her or not. But the important thing is that there is no disputing her influence, success, passion and power. That's extremely difficult to pull off, but Lloyd finds the perfect balance of perception, telling an epic and emotional story along the way.

The slow-and-steady pace, while in a few places overstays its welcome, helps the audience to gauge with her to try and understand her better, but at the same time it is never made clear what she is suffering from in her later years, only that it's plaguing her. Because we are not let in so easily, we immediately want to get in and find out, but do we really want to? She is a woman so powerful, mysterious and intimidating that we should just do what she says, much like her party members. The cinematography should also be commended here. Elliot Davis (Twilight [2008]) lovingly shoots Streep from an intimate and shady perspective but never loses sight of the fact that she is a woman of power. The image of her at the podium with the massive British flag behind her is as striking as George C. Scott's opening speech in front of the American one in Franklin J. Schaffner's Patton [1970].

The Iron Lady will appeal to a wide audience of film-goers. It is the ultimate 'rise and fall' journey of a very complex political figure and an extraordinary woman who was never a stranger to controversy.

****1/2 out of *****

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Why? The performance of Streep's career
When: December 26th (Aus)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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