When tackling a figure as divisive as Margaret Thatcher in film, one is bound to run into more than a little bit of controversy. So it's surprising that Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady, though certainly a flawed film, does a halfway decent job of neither lionizing nor demonizing Britain's first (and thus far, only) female Prime Minister. Though the film is generally supportive of Thatcher's goal to rise in the ranks of politics to "do something, not be something," it does at least show the opposition. And in one of the film's best scenes, Thatcher doesn't come off as a tough leader, but rather an icy bully who has become that which she once feared: an out-of-touch politician. At its core, this is Meryl Streep's film, through and through, and even though the material may not be as deep and rich as it could be, Streep is compelling (and that's putting it mildly).
Unfortunately, when Streep isn't playing Thatcher, the film's weaknesses become more apparent. As incarnated by Alexandra Roach, Thatcher (maiden name: Roberts) comes across as grating, despite making some solid points as she takes her first steps into politics. The film also wastes an unfortunate amount of time on Thatcher in the present, portraying her as a hunched-over old woman on the border of senility. Sections like these hold the film back, and a more linear approach would have been welcome. Still, as much of Thatcher's life as The Iron Lady covers, Lloyd and crew can at least feel proud that they've made a better life-and-times portrait than Clint Eastwood did with J. Edgar (there's something I never thought I'd ever write). Yet even in its best moments, The Iron Lady can't resist the temptation to get a bit montage-y with Thatcher's political career, which should have been the bulk of the film's 105 minute run time. Instead, what we're left with is an engaging, albeit patchwork-y and uneven, portrait that features a compelling central piece of acting, even if the film as a whole isn't as important as its subject would suggest.