Meryl Streep received her 17th (!!!) Oscar nomination and her 3rd Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011).
It’s kinda hard to describe how I feel about Meryl Streep these days. I initially didn’t want to cover her that much because all other Oscar blogs have covered her work pretty thoroughly, but I guess I eventually gave in with this post being my third review of her performances. There was a time where, like many others, I consider her the greatest actress ever. And then I started getting exposed to the brilliance of Anne Bancroft, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn and I sortof understand the issues that people have with her. Personally, I still consider her one of the best, especially with such a killer acting resume, but I have to admit that she is a tiny bit over-praised.
The year of 2011 is generally considered a weak year for the best actress category – actually, I strongly beg to differ. Maybe it’s because I’m super lenient, or I “know nothing” about acting, but I was pretty damn impressed with what I’ve seen. Viola Davis gave a beautiful, heartwrenching portrayal in The Help, while Glenn Close’s “boring, one-note” performance broke my heart (that monologue when she talked about her past has always stayed with me). Michelle WIlliams was limited by a dull film, but even her Marilyn Monroe had a certain vulnerability and mystery that made you drawn to her. And I have also heard many positive things about Rooney Mara’s Lisabeth, even though I have yet to watch the film. Of course, I still think that Charlize Theron should easily have won the Oscar for Young Adult, but I still have a deep admiration for the nominated performances in this category.
I never wanted to watch Meryl Streep’s work here mainly because of the negativity that surrounded this win. I know we should ultimately form our own judgement, but I’ve always considered Streep’s previous two wins to be among the most deserving ever, and I kinda not want to spoil it. Furthermore, like many others, I was a bit disappointed with her Julia Child (though I don’t think it is that terrible) as I felt that she was really just showing off her mimicry skills, which made me even warier of The Iron Lady, a movie that’s ripped apart by so many.
Deservedly, I may add. The Iron Lady is a pretty dull and superficial film that gives you not much insight on this woman’s life. In fact, I always feel as if the filmmakers were like “ok fuck it, let Streep do the job” because the whole thing feels so disjointed and awkwardly paced. The first 30 minutes were so dull and slow and then when it came to the part about Thatcher’s political life it adopts this superficial “touch and go” approach that barely tells you anything. And those weird camera angles! Urgh, they made Tom Hooper look like a pro. Jim Broadbent was also stuck in a weird role that serves no purpose at all, unless it was for comic relief, which it then failed I guess. I mean, his actual performance was fine but what can you do with such a poorly written part? I know I’m being overly-harsh here (a rarity, heh), but I could not help but feel so annoyed at all the missed opportunities in the film.
Still, if there was one saving grace to this film, it would be Meryl Streep. Sorry haters, but I think I might as well say it now – she’s absolutely fantastic here. She’s doing her usual Meryl tricks here, with the accent and mannerism etc, but for some reason I was 100% sold, unlike in Julie and Julia. As much as I doubt that this version of Thatcher is the most accurate, there’s no denying that Streep went beyond the limited material she had, creating a fascinating and complex portrayal of a larger-than-life character. Her fieriness and headstrong attitude was just so brilliant, convincing the viewers that Thatcher was capable of countering the pervasive sexism in her job, fighting for her own principles and eventually causing her own downfall too. What was even better was how Streep was not afraid to make Thatcher unlikable, allowing us to understand how she became the “monster” that many considered her to be. The fierce presence, the fiery speeches, the ability to stand up for her own principles and make unpopular decisions, the abrasive personality – it’s all brilliantly handled, never feeling like it’s too much. I was completely taken by her acting here, especially in the “cowardice” scene where she started lashing out at everyone. I know this was a divisive scene, but I was really impressed at how Streep managed to portray Thatcher’s domineering presence but desperation to hold on to her power at the same time.
The older Thatcher scenes, no doubt, are probably the highlight of her performance. Streep portrays the deteriorating of Thatcher so realistically that it became really heartbreaking to watch, especially when you watch her desperately hold on to the memories of her past. There’s always that overwhelming guilt of alienating her family due to politics, even though it was so badly handled by the script (“and the rest of us can go to hell!” come on…). Her phone call to her son was fantastic, and you can really here the pain and disappointment in her voice as she tries to reconnect with him. The Jim Broadbent scenes are a bit stupid, in my opinion, and yet Streep never lets it sink her performance. Of course, it would have been much better if he wasn’t there and we can just leave it to Streep to handle the hallucinations by herself, but it’s still great nonetheless. It allows us to see the weak and frail side of Thatcher, and it just give Streep more opportunities to showcase her acting range.
Call me crazy, I was just highly impressed by Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher. Yes, the film is really not good, but it’s during instances like this that really show how tremendous acting can alleviate poor material. I’m not going to apologise here, I think it’s a deserved win. 5/5