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

What’s Shakin’ – Wings of Desire at MFAH, IRS to allow deductions for gender transition

Wings of Desire1. If you’re a fan of German films that are partially in French, the film oeuvre of Peter Faulk and sexy trapeze artists with existential angst then “Wings of Desire” is your kind of flick.  The 1987 Wim Wenders masterpiece tells the story of an Angel (Bruno Ganz) who, after watching humanity since the dawn of time, desires to become human so he can be with the woman he loves. “Wings of Desire” screens tonight at 7 pm at the Museum of Fine Art Houston (1001 Bissonnet).

2. Transgender Americans who undergo hormone therapy or receive gender realignment surgery may now be able to deduct the costs of those treatments on their taxes. According to GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the IRS has issued an “action on decision” statement saying that the agency will acquiesce to an appeals court ruling allowing the deductions. GLAD cautions that medical deductions can still be audited and encourages anyone planning to deduct cost of transition medical expenses to rigorously document the medical necessity of treatments and consult with a tax professional when preparing return

3. Election day is tomorrow. If you’re one of the 58,345 people in Harris County who voted early, then good for you.  If not, you’ll want to visit HarrisVotes.org and find out where to go to cast your ballot.  Polls open at 7 am on Tuesday and close at 7 pm sharp.

—  admin

Let’s make one thing Lear

Last month, Britain’s National Theatre broadcast the (sort of) live production of its stage version of Fela!, a musical about the African musician and activist who eventually died of AIDS. The same service now presents a very different show, but one that should be just as fascinating: King Lear.

Arguably Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Lear has long been a showcase for actors in the twilight of their careers, though the casting of gay acting icon Derek Jacobi, fresh off his ensemble cast SAG Award as the wily Archbishop in The King’s Speech, has enjoyed widespread popularity and acclaim almost continuously for four decades. Already a prime interpreter of the Bard (his Richard II remains a defining characterization), the chance to see him as Lear is a treat.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Screens at the Angelika Dallas Feb. 9 and 10 and Angelika Plano Feb. 13 and 14 at 7 p.m. NTLive.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright