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Meryl Streep wins over critics as 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher

December 30, 2011 |  8:36 am

Mery Streep in 'The Iron Lady'
Much like "J. Edgar," the new biopic "The Iron Lady," starring Meryl Streep as onetime British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, features an A-list actor portraying a controversial figure of the 20th century over the course of many years, in an attempt to shed light on a complex subject (and presumably to snag some awards gold). Film critics are praising Streep's performance in "The Iron Lady," which opened Friday in Los Angeles and in New York, though some other aspects of the movie are not faring as well.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey calls the film "a memory poem" and "a movie that is highly personal in every sense of the word." Rather than exploring Thatcher's politics, the movie "instead offers up an affecting if not always satisfying portrait of the strong-willed leader humbled by age." The production design and makeup are well done, and the most striking aspect of the film is "Streep's uncanny ability to disappear inside her characters," Sharkey says. "But if you come expecting keen insight into the intrigues of her very long political life, or even something as simple as why the Soviets dubbed her the Iron Lady, consider a trip to the library instead."

New York Magazine's David Edelstein deems "The Iron Lady" "shallow but satisfying, largely because of Meryl Streep and her big fake English teeth and gift for using mimicry as a means of achieving empathy." Edelstein writes that director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") and screenwriter Abi Morgan ("Shame") "clearly admire [Thatcher's] feminism … but are studiously neutral on the nature of her politics." He adds, "they are making the case for the human being beneath the mask."

In Time, Richard Corliss offers a favorable review, writing that Streep's Thatcher is "a triumph." The flinty prime minister "gets softened in Streep's caring hands, to the extent that even those of the hostile persuasion may feel the strange stirrings of affection, sympathy and pity. The movie is a nice surprise too." Streep is a "good guide through the life of a woman who knew how to achieve power but may never have known herself," and Jim Broadbent gets kudos for his supporting role as Thatcher's doting husband.

A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson writes that" 'The Iron Lady's' vague, rushed skim across Thatcher's career fails as history, [but] it sometimes succeeds as cinema." For example, "In fits and spurts, 'The Iron Lady' does convey the hardships and price of power, particularly given Thatcher’s gender." But Robinson also says Lloyd's direction is uneven and at times "without weight."

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott says "The Iron Lady" is "a credible enough portrait" but also that it fails to offer much insight into its subject. "Though the film pays lip service to Mrs. Thatcher’s analytic intelligence and tactical shrewdness, its focus is on the drama and pathos of her personal life," Scott writes, adding, "In trying to make her more human, more sympathetic, the filmmakers turn a self-made, highly original woman into something of a cliché." Scott does, however, applaud Streep, who "provides, once again, a technically flawless impersonation that also seems to reveal the inner essence of a well-known person."

Now, the question is whether Streep can parlay her role as "The Iron Lady" into an Oscar. Time will tell.


Meryl Streep walks in Margaret Thatcher's shoes

'Iron Lady': Meryl Streep's Thatcher biopic draws ire in Britain

Meryl Streep's next project: A national women's history museum

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey / The Weinstein Co.

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