Well, these are not the reviews Harvey Weinstein had in mind when he backed “The Iron Lady.” So far the movie is scoring 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Stateside critics are praising Meryl Streep’s impeccable portrait of a much-revered and reviled British leader, while many question Phyllida Lloyd’s direction as one-sided, “chronologically scrambled,” and overly revisionist. Will these reviews hurt Streep at the Oscars? While it always helps to be on a winning team, reaction from Academy screenings was enthusiastic. SAG will tell the tale on January 29.
The New York Times, A. O. Scott:
They also manage to push the great passion and distinction of her life — her pursuit and exercise of power — into the background. This is not unusual in biopics, which frequently turn artists into substance abusers and sexual adventurers who just happened to cut a few records or paint a few pictures on their way to redemption. “The Iron Lady,” following this template, makes a particular hash of British history, compressing social and economic turmoil into a shorthand that resembles a chronologically scrambled British version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (Miners’ strike/Falklands War/I can’t take it any more … .)
Village Voice, Karina Longworth:
Despite the story’s conceit of placing the viewer inside Thatcher’s head, she never feels like a real person—but this is more the fault of Morgan’s script than Streep’s typically studied performance, much of it buried under prosthetics. In her glory years, even behind closed doors, Thatcher is all campaign-speak bombast; later, she’s a cartoon of old age, with the camera angled to emphasize her skewed point of view.
Salon, Andrew O’Hehir:
Streep is so powerful as Margaret Thatcher in director Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” that she made me believe I understood the legendary and ferocious former British prime minister much better than I had before. That may be an illusion, of course; Streep does not know Thatcher personally, and neither do you or I.
Rolling Stone, Peter Travers:
But then Streep and director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) are hunting different game than the usual biopic. The Iron Lady – a kind of female spin on King Lear – is framed with Thatcher – weakened by old age and encroaching dementia (great makeup; J. Edgar, take note) – remembering her youth, her fight for political prominence in a world of men, her marriage to businessman Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) and her neglect of him and their two children. Thatcher’s chats with the ghost of her dead husband (bravo, Broadbent) are wonderfully droll. The sharp economy of Lloyd’s direction allows the incontestably great Streep to take impressionistic snatches of a life and build a woman in full. This is acting of the highest order.
Time Entertainment, Richard Corliss:
The real Thatcher, so distinct, driven and humorless that she was her own “Spitting Image” parody, 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. Under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd — who, after her crass film debut with “Mamma Mia!” makes a giant leap into competence — “The Iron Lady” is a clever and oddly touching entertainment.
Film Threat, Phil Hall:
The basic problem with this concept is that it is borderline libelous in its depiction of today’s Thatcher as a hallucinatory old loon who bickers with her ghostly husband – he behaves like a “Carry On” buffoon while she pours herself generous glassfuls of whiskey. From what I can gather via press reports, Thatcher has been in poor health over the past decade following a series of mini-strokes. Yet you wouldn’t know that from this film, which has Thatcher engaged in vigorous housecleaning and endless fiery monologues – not exactly the kind of behavior that one associates with an elderly woman recovering from a series of strokes.
Movieline, Stephanie Zacharek
In The Iron Lady, Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, and boy, does she play her: It’s not just the crafty prosthetics, the careful swooping of the powdery-no-color hair, the meticulously chosen jacket-and-skirt ensembles that conjure the chilly specter of the seemingly indestructible former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Everything Streep does — her strutting-pigeon walk, the way she purses her lips just so after making a particularly harsh pronouncement in the presence of her cabinet — suggests many hours’ worth of vocal exercises and scholarly dissection of video footage… Yet Streep’s performance doesn’t exist inside a bubble, and it’s of a piece with the picture’s conception of Thatcher as a not-bad lady who actually had some good points, if you squint really hard.
The A.V. Club, Tasha Robinson:
In that moment, Streep’s steely determination and the film’s rise-to-power drama recall the exaggerated fire of “Elizabeth” more than the realistic, stately calm of “The Queen.” But director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) conveys too many of Thatcher’s efforts, ups, and downs through upbeat musical montages and parades of interactions without weight. Only the present-day material—the most fictionalized, dramatic, and personal scenes—brings across real, raw emotion and motivations. Strangely, this Thatcher biopic might have been far more worthwhile if it wasn’t about Thatcher: The aged, dotty stranger hanging out with her dead husband is a more compelling subject.