Streep defends subjective politics of 'Iron Lady'

Posted by · 12:33 pm · November 30th, 2011

Unlike my esteemed colleague, I must admit I was pretty thrilled with the outcome of yesterday’s New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards — within the bracket of likely Oscar contenders, they picked the most formally adventurous and openly lovable option for their top prize, recognizing that it’s principally its director’s achievement to boot. Awards for supporting performances, foreign language film and cinematography were all as well-deserved as they were predictable, and if Brad Pitt’s Best Actor prize came as a surprise, it’s good see a major star rewarded for raising his game in worthy projects.

The one major award I was less than pleased with, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, was Meryl Streep’s Best Actress prize for “The Iron Lady” — her fifth win with the Gotham crowd. The performance, I suppose, is accomplished enough (though far from the most inspired or affecting work in the category this year), but it’s surrounded by a film so muddled and misguided as to steer even its expert star into the wrong tonal territory on occasion.

I’ll save my full thoughts on “The Iron Lady” for a review later this week — my Twitter followers already have some idea of how little I like it — but my problems with it are split fairly evenly between its structural and technical ineptitude and its ludicrously myopic politics. Not only highly selective with Thatcher’s laundry-list of socially destructive policies and decisions, the film’s take on the ones it does cop to is still, shall we say, pretty creative.

That’s a subjective view, of course, so it’s prudent of Streep herself to remind us that the film is entitled to its own. USA Today reports that while in Washington to accept her Kennedy Center honor this weekend — it sure is a good week for the actress — Streep presented “The Iron Lady” to an audience of political types, former state senators and governors among them. Perhaps anticipating a more politically concerned response to the film, she had a clever semi-defence ready:

“This is not a biopic,” the actress warned the packed audience before the feature directed by her Mamma Mia! maestro Phyllida Lloyd began. Instead, The Iron Lady presents an older Thatcher as she flashes back to the highs and lows of her career while staving off dementia. “It’s a subjective look back,” Streep explained. “As close to the truth as fiction will allow.”

Hard to argue with that: “The Iron Lady” is as free to interpret its subject however it wishes as I am to find that interpretation dramatically and/or ideologically ill-considered. As it stands, for a film that was pitched all along as a mere performance showcase, I’m increasingly interested in tracking the critical response to it as a whole.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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