The Iron Lady This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 8, 2012
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On February 26, 2012, Meryl Streep won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” Throughout her four-decade-long career, Streep has been nominated for an Academy Award seventeen times; this is the third time she’s won. Her last gold statuette was for “Sophie’s Choice” (1982). This year, “The Iron Lady” was two for two in terms of Academy Award nominations and wins; the other nomination and win was for “Best Makeup.”

These two awards make a perfect summary of this film: Meryl Streep is a spectacular actress and her makeup artist did a spectacular job to make her look like Margaret Thatcher. Without Streep, “The Iron Lady” would have failed in the box office and been condemned by British right-wingers as a cruel attack on an aging former Prime Minister. As such, Meryl Streep became the essence of this film. Her acting expresses the strength of Thatcher’s moral character, her confidence in her own beliefs, and her passion for making an impact on the world.

The movie itself, however, is not at all remarkable. It’s too formularic. It uses a retrospective view, with Thatcher suffering from dementia in 2011 as “the present,” and invoking such memories as that of a young Thatcher waltzing to “Shall We Dance?” with her husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). This movie emphasizes Thatcher’s humble beginnings as a grocer’s daughter, and her difficult journey up the patriarchal British government. A lot of the dialogue seems overly scripted, too idealistic, or simply something that would be out of place except in a film depiction. For example, when Thatcher goes for her medical check-up, she gives an impromptu speech to the unsuspecting doctor: "Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think we become." Touching? Yes. Realistic? No.

Looking back on Thatcher's legacy, perhaps it's acceptable to generalize her life with this statement. The film itself says that she was at one time voted the "most hated Prime Minsister" in British history, which was probably true considering her unpopular policies concerning trade unions, taxes, public spending cuts, and privatization. The only time she wasn't hated was after Britain won the Falklands War in 1983. But the remarkable thing about Thatcher was: she didn't care if people hated her. She did what she believed was right despite the effect on her popularity or chances of reelection. Few politicians today can claim that.

The final scene of the movie is silent and wistful; you can only hear the lovely music as Thatcher shuffles offscreen. It leaves you thinking. And you wonder if she really did something good in the world and whether she'll be remembered a hundred years from now as a person who believed that “one’s life must matter.”

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