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Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Iron Lady

Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd

Produced by: Damian Jones

Screenplay by: Abi Morgan

Starring: Meryl Streep
Jim Broadbent
Alexandra Roach
Harry Lloyd
Olivia Colman
Anthony Head
Nicholas Farrell
Richard E. Grant

Music by: Thomas Newman

Studio(s): Pathe
Film 4
UK Film Council
Media Rights Capital

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company (United States)
20th Century Fox (United Kingdom)
Pathe (France)

Release date(s): December 26, 2011 (Australia)
December 30, 2011 (United States; limited)
January 6, 2012 (United Kingdom)
January 13, 2012 (Wide release)

Country(s): United Kingdom
France

Language: English

Production budget: $13 million

Box office revenue: $32, 967, 122

Okay, now that I'm done with the scourge that is Sucker Punch, let us never speak of it again. Today, I have seen Hanna, and will be attending a screening of Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Also, expect many reviews to keep coming in. As Rocky Balboa would say, "Ain't nothing over 'til it's over." Much work is to be done, and, in keeping with my trademarks, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's film up for scrutiny is The Iron Lady. The first major feature-film biopic on the life of Margaret Thatcher. Interestingly, not withstanding it's mixed critical reception, the film has also managed to irritate people of both the left and right on the political spectrum. While Mark and Carol Thatcher have been reported to call it "left-wing fantasy," others have criticised the film for glossing over the politics of Thatcher, instead depicting her as a woman triumphing against the odds. Beginning with the elderly Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) buying milk in a shop, The Iron Lady follows two separate narrative timelines, the first showing her suffering from dementia and conversing with deceased husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent), while the second consists of her reflections over her life, from youth to her rise to power as the first female Prime Minster in the history of the British government. Excuse the Jamesian sentence, but it gets the point across with regards to the storyline.

To start with the good about The Iron Lady, I must highlight the performances of Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent. Despite being an American, Steep nails Thatcher in her various incarnations, be it the younger "screecher" or the refined, deeper-voiced "Lady of the House." Vocally, it's a strong bit of work. Also, as far as believably embodying Thatcher, Streep's meticulousness and detailed research comes through. As far as Broadbent goes, his Dennis Thatcher is more of a character is opposed to a realistic depiction. However, in these terms, Broadbent is entertaining, charming and serves as a strong catalyst for Streep's Thatcher and her mental degeneration. Also, the film has some excellent makeup, particularly for Thatcher. It enables Steep to believably portray Thatcher over a period of time that spans approximately fifty years. This is no silly, leather-faced hokum pokum, but an integral part to the film's mise-en-scene, as is the hair that became one of Thatcher's trademarks. Also, I was impressed by the film's costumes, which serve the same purpose as the make-up, adding to the believability of the characters, but also giving the film's mise-en-scene a wide, varied range in terms of it's colour palette.

That said, with these good things, The Iron Lady is still a highly flawed, and frankly, boring film. Abi Morgan's script is a large part of the many contributing factors. For instance, the narrative structure, based around Thatcher's reflections on her life, is flimsy and very messy. Bouncing too freely back and forth between 'old' and 'young' Thatcher, it ensures that we never really get involved with the story the film is trying to tell. Also, the story itself is not one that we especially care for. Thatcher's 'reflections' are a rather base, contrived and cliched depiction of a woman overcoming the odds. Everything in the reflective storyline is so simplistic and propagandist in it's feeling that in bring to mind Eisenstein, a director I like, whenever he was at his very worst. Also, Morgan's characters are two-dimensional and feel like a strong wind would knock them over if put to the test. Furthermore, the dialogue sounds like something out an overly theatrical stage play without substance, and seems to serve no purpose in elevating the story beyond a basic, Basil Exposition surface level. Also, Thomas Newman, whose music I like, delivers an intolerably murder-by-numbers score that reeks to high heaven and serves as a reminder of the emotions that we are supposed to feel, in case the film's rather overt storytelling wasn't bad enough (yes, another appearance by the Emotional Heartstrings Orchesta!). Also, it must be said that if you are going to cast great actors such as Anthony Head and Richard E. Grant, give them something more substantial than a simple walk on, say something, walk-off part. Grant in particular suffers here, for while looking the part as Michael Heseltine, does not get the opportunity to give him any sense of depth or significance, despite playing a large part in Thatcher's political career. Finally, Phyllida Lloyd artistic decisions are a fine example of poorly judged misdirection.

The Iron Lady has to it's credit two strong performances from Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent, some fantastic makeup and great costumes, both of which contribute much to establishing the film's mise-en-scene. However, these qualities are threatened to be dwarfed by Abi Morgan's base script, Thomas Newman's murder-by-number's score, under-utilised actors in Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant etc, and misdirection by Phyllida Lloyd. Incidentally, I was probably the only person under fifty in the screening I went to see this (and for all the flak teenagers get, the problem of talking in cinemas does not decrease with the increasing age of the audience demographic), and they came out as nonplussed by the film as I did. Honestly, it reminded me of the film's parodied in the Academy Awards section in The Naked Gun 33: The Final Insult. At one point, I felt the eyes glazing over and my form slowly sinking into my seat, because for all it's qualities, and don't get the impression I hated the movie (my own fault perhaps), but I found it very dull and boring, and if you want to see a batty old woman, just watch Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket (it's 'Bouquet!') in Keeping Up Appearances.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Ready (I've got a long day of films ahead of me!)

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