Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Mamma Mia - It's Margaret Thatcher!

Published Thursday, 05 January 2012
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In 2008, Director Phyllida Lloyd made the movie box-office boom worldwide and cinema audiences boogie in the aisles with her big screen adaptation of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia.

Now, she is back with a surprising follow up, The Iron Lady, a sad and sentimental biopic of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Lloyd may have left the show stopping tunes behind but boldly sets out to make a dramatic song and dance out of the rise and fall of one of Britain's most successful and controversial politicians.

Loved and loathed in equal measure, Margaret Thatcher is a difficult subject for any film, how do you make 'the Iron Lady' a sympathetic character? Why would disconcerting audiences flock to see this film?

The story begins with the elderly Mrs Thatcher struggling to buy a simple pint of milk in a corner shop.

An apt beginning, as not only was Thatcher the girl from the grocers store who went all the way to the top, but also the former politician, once nicknamed 'Milk Snatcher' for taking milk out of schools.

Thatcher is portrayed as an aging widow, struggling with dementia, a lost and lonely figure in the modern world. She is haunted by the pointed memories of her political past and of her late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who appears beyond the grave as a constant companion throughout her reflections.

However, despite the obvious tenderness between Maggie and Denis, The Iron Lady fails to engage emotionally.

The problem with the film biopic that spans a lifetime is that it rarely works, the cinematic sweeps are simply too broad. Huge sways of history flash before your eyes, as in Mrs Thatcher's case with the Falklands War, The Miners Strike and the Brighton Bomb. And for those of us who lived through the Thatcher years, this feels like very familiar highlights.

But towering above the underwhelming script with its obvious sequence of events is a central performance of iconic status.

Who else could excite you to see Maggie Thatcher on the big screen other than Meryl Streep? For me, Streep is quite simply the greatest film actor (that's male or female) of all time.

She is a flawless performer, constantly striving for total perfection in a glittering career over thirty five years that includes two Oscars and an incredible record sixteen acting nominations.

Streep is renowned for her impeccable skill at mastering accents, whether pitch perfect with Danish in Out Of Africa, or Italian in The Bridges Of Madison County or County Donegal no less, in Dancing At Lughnasa.

However in The Iron Lady it's not just the polished voice that is accomplished, Streep perfects both the commanding physicality and aging vulnerability of Thatcher.

From her first moment on screen, the Hollywood superstar vanishes before your eyes and the former British Prime Minister appears: it is a truly astonishing and breathtaking transformation.

Streep has stated that she wanted to portray the humanity of a figure known only for her fearsome reputation.

She does this and more, and with the award season coming swiftly upon us, expect Streep's iron portrayal to turn to Oscar gold.

The Iron Lady (Cert 12a) is on general release from Friday 6th January.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.

Twice.

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