In the first scene of The Iron Lady, which re-teams director Phyllida Lloyd with her Mamma Mia! star Meryl Streep, 80-something Margaret Thatcher is presented as a little old lady unfit for the fast-moving world outside her hermetic London townhouse. The bulk of the movie takes place in an even smaller, more airless space: the dementia-stricken former British prime minister's head. Lloyd's film alternates between Thatcher's rich memories of her past struggles and glories and her present-day attempts to remember more quotidian stuff—like how to turn on the TV or that her beloved husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), whom she sees across the breakfast table and speaks aloud to all day long, is actually dead. Cutting out anything that might complicate the film's notion of Thatcher as a working-class girl turned plucky housewife turned feminist icon turned tragically doddering granny, The Iron Lady suggests that arguments against its heroine were always irrational and usually knee-jerk misogynistic. Thatcher's point of view is well-represented; the counterargument is merely violence and chaos. In the film's version of events, Thatcher "fell" because a lone civilized woman could not possibly survive the onslaught of the barbaric mob. Iron Lady's presentation of the historical record through the aged Thatcher's stream of consciousness—an obviously biased and unreliable narrator—gives Lloyd formal justification for turning Thatcher's life into a highlight reel in which the PM is put upon by sexist, classist, and/or faceless brutes. As for moral justification, you're on your own.
Streep as the '80s icon.
Opens at Guild 45th and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 13. Rated PG-13. 105 minutes.