A patchwork of politics and personal relationships, it is unclear as to whether the film wants to focus on Thatcher the mother or Thatcher the aggressor, with neither given enough depth to make you truly get to grips with. Most attention is given to her role as a wife, her love for Denis absolutely unconditional (pay attention to the repetitive shots of her wedding rings) and tragically hard to bear by the close. Although she would never admit it, she is completely dependent on her husband, his presence during her dementia stricken later years testament to this and giving way to some incredibly raw emotion from Streep.
The two-time Oscar winner is almost completely unrecognisable, lost behind the impressive makeup and not so much mimicking as wholly encompassing the very essence of the woman. Once her ‘screeching’ has been attended to and her hair coiffed to perfection, Streep is quite the formidable leader, the chirping male politicians that constantly peck away at her (the replacement for Mamma Mia!’s Greek chorus, perhaps) left cowering in her path, but she’s never given enough chance to show what ferocity she’s truly capable of. Far more TV movie than Hollywood biopic, Lloyd never tries to make the film unnecessarily grand, surprisingly far more about Thatcher in her confused present than in her glory days, Streep’s technical brilliance in these later years nothing short of intoxicating.
Unfortunately Lloyd does allow some of her characters to lapse into caricature at times, the more experienced Olivia Colman steering Carol away from it in moments of despair, but Alexandra Roach’s young Margaret falling foul of it, rather upstaged by Harry Lloyd’s younger Denis. As his older counterpart, Jim Broadbent may appear to be playing in line with a Shakespearian fool, but by providing the rare laughs as the obliging and eternally proud husband he is a happy escape during the film’s fragmented structure.
Set amidst times of great social unrest, the controversial IRA bombings are covered with great haste, far removed from the impressive detail the elderly Thatcher is able to recall, resulting in a lack of serious threat. We are constantly presented with how she is under pressure, but never appreciate the full intensity as anything too complicated is glazed over, leaving it a little underwhelming. Although the events in question are easy to comprehend, it’s only when real footage of the riots is shown that any tangible sense of danger is felt. But this is dampened by cliché, played over punk music and cartoonish headlines that unfortunately appear to undermine Streep’s magnetic central performance.
Never painted as the central villain, Lloyd projects her vision of Thatcher as a woman torn by decisions in a male dominated profession. Although greatly loved by her staff and family, the cabinet who question her authority are never given any real individual character, the ‘bullied’ Greek chorus technique only giving us an overview of the general consensus. Fragmented like her memories, there is no set order of service, the film feeling far less about the life of a Prime Minister than the demise of one.
While interesting to watch Thatcher’s progression from grocer’s daughter to leader of a nation, it’s never particularly gripping, the scene in the House of Commons the only real time the politics is fun and exciting. In another Oscar season case of the central performance being larger than its rather unremarkable vehicle (My Week with Marilyn, The Help), the realisation that Streep is superior to the film she leads is inescapable.