I have a problem with the praise and plaudits actors continually receive for playing real people – that being people who actually exist (or existed) as Meryl Streep does in The Iron Lady, portraying the infamous former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It’s not that her performance isn’t good – particularly in her physical embodiment, voice and accent – but why these performances are constantly higher esteemed than those of actors who create a performance and character from scratch is beyond me. There is a lot that costume, hair and make-up can do to bring alive a renowned figure, as seen in Streep’s bouffant hair, excellent aging process and famous blue outfits. As much praise should then be heaped on the costume, hair and make-up designers who assisted in accurately portraying the icon.
Streep’s much talked-about performance aside, there is something to be said for the film’s broach on gender and class. Showing us Thatcher from her humble beginnings as a grocer’s daughter, and her later peers’ thinly-veiled contempt for this, brings to light some of the prejudices she fought against. “Class” after all, as William Golding said “is the British language”. It also takes an outwardly admirable stance against gender bias – Thatcher herself asserts: “I cannot die washing up a teacup”. This line bears great relevance in the film but, although I whole-heartedly agree with her sentiment, her overall attitude is quite an affront to women who choose a more traditional role in life. There is nothing wrong with an ambitious woman, such as Thatcher was, who chooses to defy convention; but if a woman chooses a more conventional role (without being forced into it) there is nothing wrong with that either. Ironically, despite the film’s purport of her ambition it simultaneously seems to criticise her for it in its portrayal of her strained family relationships.
The film’s strength lies in its depiction of history, weaving together Thatcher’s political reign through montages of raw footage. The film often has its tongue in its cheek as Thatcher stands out like a sore thumb amongst a swarm of political men in black suits, mirroring Streep’s sole American presence amongst fine British supporting talent such as Jim Broadbent and Richard E. Grant. Beautifully written, with a fitting score by Thomas Newman, it is an engaging film which retains a paradox of objectivity and poignancy.