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Saturday, March 31, 2012

THE IRON LADY -- DVD review by porfle

Much to my relief, THE IRON LADY (2011) is anything but the stuffy, serio-uncomic bio-bore I thought I was in for.  On the contrary, for much of its running time this (mostly) true story of England's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is a breezy and very likable tale sprinkled with all kinds of delightful little moments.  This is eventually offset by the gravitas of her turbulent administration, which saw England go to war in the Falkland Islands and suffer chaotic divisiveness at home. 

Meryl Streep is almost ethereally good as she loses herself in the character.  While some seem to regard her as a "stunt" actress flaunting an array of affected accents and mannerisms, I find her to be a quite amazingly talented actress, period.  Her Thatcher is delightfully dowdy and matronly, staunchly conservative and proper yet fiercely independent, intelligent, and practical--all of the qualities that help her succeed in a man's world and finally propel her into office.  Whether playing the dynamic public figure or the doddering recluse who no longer seems to have a place in a changing world, Streep's portrayal is thoroughly realized and fascinating to watch.

Thatcher's political career is shown as a whirlwind progression from struggle to triumph to tribulation, with the lighthearted tone of her early successes giving way to a darker period of turmoil--the Falklands war, riots and terrorism, loss of support due to her intractable and increasingly critical nature--until the day she is forced to resign.  Meanwhile, we see how her preoccupation with politics causes her personal life to suffer.  "When did I lose track of everyone?" the older Margaret asks upon realizing that her children have grown up and gone away.

Of course, all of the scenes involving the elderly Thatcher's struggles with Alzheimer's (a fact publicly revealed in 2008 by her daughter Carol, portrayed in the film by Olivia Colman) and the kaleidoscope of memories and delusions swirling through her mind during the film are sheer speculation, even outright fantasy, on screenwriter Abi Morgan's part.  This is especially true in regard to Thatcher's frequent conversations with her deceased husband Denis, who cheerfully supported her in life and apparently continues to do so in spectral form. 

Such a skewed perspective on Thatcher's life gives much of what occurs onscreen the aura of a Pete Townsend rock opera (at times, director Phyllida Lloyd seems to be channeling a more sedate version of Ken Russell), or a liberal extrapolation of established canon along the lines of "Jesus Christ Superstar."  And yet, while THE IRON LADY is part biography and part downright fantasy--we pretty much know which is which--the more fantastical aspects help to breathe life into the story while providing most of its humor and charm.  

This non-linear, sometimes dreamlike narrative, which often makes Thatcher seem as unstuck in time as SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE's Billy Pilgrim, allows the screenwriter to alternate between traditional biopic-type scenes and free-form montages that help make the story more breezy and briskly-paced than it would be if it were simply the usual series of extended flashbacks.  Since we see it all from her point of view, she seems not so much delusional as constantly haunted by the ghosts of people and events from her past, with various moments in her life playing off each other as their relevance intertwines. 

Jim Broadbent is hilarious as Denis, who seems to have been much too perpetually delighted with life to worry about something as trivial as ego.  He and Streep are very good together, playing out Maggie and Denis' strangely symbiotic relationship with a prickly kind of warmth and humor.  One can understand how she remains drawn to him even in the moments when she realizes that his post-mortem presence is indicative of her deteriorating mental state.

Harry Lloyd captures the younger Denis with the same zeal, while Alexandra Roach is an ideal choice to play young Margaret, who, to paraphrase Thatcher herself, wasn't preoccupied with being someone but with doing something.  The scene in which Denis proposes to her after she loses her first bid for Parliament is sweetly romantic, and the wistful way in which an older, solitary Margaret recalls such happy snippets of memory is poignant. 

The DVD (also available as a Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital Copy combo) from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a making-of featurette and four shorter ones covering various aspects of the production.

While the film doesn't really know how to end, the filmmakers manage to contrive a final sentimental bit that reaffirms the Iron Lady's celebrated resolve before the fadeout.  Since THE IRON LADY is more of a contemplative meander through a hall of broken mirrors than a history lesson, I guess it sorta fits.

Buy it at
Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital Copy

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