If judged on her looks and New Jersey birthplace, Meryl Streep would seem an odd choice to play Baroness Thatcher. Yet there is a reason why Streep has received more Oscar nominations than any other actor. In a career that has taken in Kramer vs Kramer, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa and The Devil Wears Prada, she has proved time and time again that no matter what the role, she is up to the challenge. It's probable that Streep will be picking up the gold statue for her role in The Iron Lady, yet her performance is the one bright spot in an otherwise misguided film.
The opening scene promises much, with the former British prime minister seen in her local grocery bemusedly asking: "How much is the price of milk?", the price of which was a bone of contention in her early days as the prime minister and also a reference to her past as a grocer's daughter.
Yet this proves a false dawn. The central conceit of the movie is that the action takes place in 2005 in the aftermath of the death of her husband Denis Thatcher (Broadbent). The Conservative party leader and prime minister from 1979 until 1990 is by this time suffering from dementia.
While placing emphasis on her memory loss allows for a convenient segue into flashbacks, the structure also means that much of the film takes place at a time when the so-called Iron Lady is weak and ordinary. Whether you loved or loathed Thatcher, it seems an odd and frankly unfair picture to paint of one of the most dominant figures in 20th-century history. After all, as a female politician, only Indira Ghandi and Benazir Bhutto could argue that they've had as much worldwide impact.
Lloyd also cops out by refusing to pass judgement, good or bad, on Thatcher. The flashbacks play like a music video montage: the miners' strike, poll tax riots and the Falklands War whizz by with no context.
As for her relationship with Denis, there are flashbacks to a young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) meeting a young Denis (Harry Lloyd) while she makes her first inroads into the Conservative party. From the off, it's the lady who wears the trousers. Her daughter Carol (Colman) is a constant companion trying hard to support her mother through her grief, while her twin brother Mark is conveniently banished to South Africa with no mention of his connection with a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea for which he was fined and given a suspended jail sentence. A failure to pick at the warts is synonymous with the tepid approach to the biopic. As for the major figures in her political life, they are also given short shrift. Only her former cabinet colleague Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) is given any context, here bludgeoned by Thatcher from being the loyal servant to the man who finally sticks the knife in. Only cursory mentions are made of her perennial foes Michael Heseltine (Richard E Grant) and Edward Heath (John Session).
Alas, the film feels like an exercise in avoiding offence, something that Thatcher would no doubt herself abhor. While this approach is OK when Lloyd makes films such as Mamma Mia! it's rather sloppy and cowardly when dealing with an iconic and divisive figure.