REVIEW: “The Iron Lady”

The Iron Lady feels like the best TV movie ever. In structure, length, content and technique, it feels much more like an excellent entry into the Masterpiece Theatre canon and a stand-alone feature film. If you go in expecting a sweeping, diaper-to-Depends biopic of Margaret Thatcher, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment; if you think it’ll be like The Queen, focusing on a single incident to illuminate a greater understanding of character, you don’t get that either. Rather, you’re treated to a performance by Meryl Streep so hypnotic that you are unaware you are watching a performance at all. Some roles draw attention to how complete they are; this one oddly doesn’t. It’s just Thatcher, through and through.

That’s reason enough to see the film, which is otherwise a disappointment. We first see Thatcher in her dotage, mistakable for a bag lady, as she drifts in and out of dementia: Forgetting she is no longer prime minister of Great Britain, thinking husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), long-dead, is still with her. But things — radio broadcasts, old suits, everything except a madeleine dipped in tea — trigger her recollections, in surprisingly linear fashion: Her early campaign for Parliament, her development from a shrill housewife in pearls to a deep-throated leader of the Right; her eventually ouster when her bullying reached intolerable proportions, even among her devoted followers.

But aside from broad statements about her beliefs and too many scenes of protestors attacking her limo to show her controversial nature, the film, directed by Phyllida Law (Mamma Mia), is thin on actual politics. In one scene, No. 10 Downing St. is firebombed, nearly killing Maggie and Denis. I recall nothing about this historically, but aside from showing it, the film never even tries to explain it: Was it the IRA or some other group? What exactly about Thatcher’s policies warranted this particular attack? The treatment of such matters is staggeringly superficial. (Her relationship with Reagan is barely mentioned.)

The Iron Lady does do a good job early on at portraying the then-prevailing political hierarchy of England as male-centric — a pond of fleshy-necked bullfrogs bloviating about how things need to be done. Maggie actually did things, not just talk about them, though you’ll learn more details of her politics watching Billy Elliot than this movie.

Still, the hype about Streep is deserved. She’s excellent playing Thatcher from 40s to 80s, showing her micro-managing habits that drove even her children crazy. It’s a sympathetic portrayal not because she’s so nice, but because she’s so human. Iron Lady? No, she was, at heart, still flesh and bone.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A very gay night at the Golden Globes

The Golden Globes were about as gay as an awards ceremony can get Sunday night, with plenty of queer winners across the TV and film categories.

The Kids Are All Right, lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko’s family portrait of two gay women, won best picture/comedy or musical and best actress/comedy for Annette Bening. The Cher-sung song “You Haven’t Heard the Last of Me” from Burlesque, won best song. Scott Rudin, the gay producer whom screenwriter Aaron Sorkin declared the greatest living producer of film, won best picture/drama for The Social Network.

But TV was where the gays really succeeded. Glee, from gay creator Ryan Murphy, won best TV comedy series, as well as best supporting performers for the of the openly gay cast members, Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch. Lynch thanked her wife and kids, and Colfer, visibly surprised, gave a shout-out to fighting anti-gay bullying. Best actor in a TV comedy went to gay actor Jim Parsons for The Big Bang Theory, who mentioned his husband Todd without referring to him as his life partner.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones