Saturday, March 31, 2012

Meryl Streep excels in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher

Meryl Streep's training at the Yale School f Drama seems to have found its real expression in the actress' excellent portrayal of British conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady". Streep gets Thatcher right. The defiant and combative Thatcher sincerely believes in the conservative credo of self-help, almost a Victorian -- that much detested era -- virtue. It is this staunch political belief that seems to have helped Thatcher to lead the Conservative Party first and Britain later. Streep captures to perfection the British manner and accent of Thatcher. She resists the temptation to give that extra histrionic push that she is generally in the habit of giving. It is a restrained performance and it pays off well. The Oscar for Best Actress that she got for her role as Thatcher is truly deserving.
Was the bit on old Thatcher reliving her days of struggle and triumph overdone a bit? It seems to be so though lonely Thatcher still retains her steel and grit when she tells the doctor that nowadays people feel a lot and do not think enough on ideas. It is this dignified Thatcher that wins admiration.
What about Thatcher the politician? Director Philida Lloyd shows Thatcher handicapped by her lower  middle class background -- the label 'grocer's daughter' is used against her by her own uppity party-men. The political narrative is skimpy though Lloyd touches upon all the important milestones in Thatcher's time as Conservative MP, Conservative minister, and Conservative prime minister. But this leaves one a little dis-sastisfied because there is not much meat in the political battles, except a glimpse of it during the Falklands war, where she confronts the US secretary of state.  The Falklands was a silly and small war and the director seems to be aware of it. But she tries to show it through the sense of glory felt by a small England reduced to insignificance from its glory days of the empire.
Perhaps, the film could have concentrated more on Thatcher the politician  than on Thatcher the senior citizen remembering her days in power. It was done perhaps to emphasise the irony of the most powerful woman being holding out on her own in the last days. But the character of Thatcher, who does not seem to care much for ironies, overcomes the intended irony through her homily on thinking as opposed to feelings.
But here is a movie that makes you think of the politics of conservatism, its simple message of self-help and the dignity of the individual, and the director achieves it by giving an intimate portrait of the woman that Thatcher was.

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