No one has ever questioned the brilliance of Meryl Streep, nor her chameleon-like ability to play practically any character. In Phyllida Lloyd's (who also directed Streep in Mamma Mia!) The Iron Lady, however, it is unfortunate that Streep is given the entire burden of making the story of one of Britain's most infamous prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher, seem cohesive. Told from a nonlinear, fragmented series of flashbacks based on Abi Morgan's, to borrow a word from Madonna, "reductive" script, we come away with an understanding of Thatcher's love for her husband, but not of much else. In trying to cover as much ground as possible, with an emphasis on Thatcher's degenerative mental state in her golden years (Thatcher is currently 86), Morgan ultimately does the Iron Lady, both film and person, a disservice.
Incidentally, Morgan also wrote the superb and controversial screenplay for Steve McQueen's Shame, a film that showcases her proclivities as a playwright (she won an Olivier Theater Award for her 2001 play, Tender) in terms of its minimalism and focus on thematic elements. Would that Morgan could have saved some of Shame's goodness for The Iron Lady. Instead, Morgan gives Lloyd an overzealous structure to work with that tells novices to the Margaret Thatcher scene nothing concrete about her life.
In fact, The Iron Lady appears so concerned with neutrality over one of the most hated and mocked political figures of the 1980s--second only to Ronald Reagan--that its lack of stance is almost more irritating than a flagrant bias. Apart from Londoners goading her from the outside of her car, the only time the audience gets a true sense of how immensely disliked she was is when Michael Heseltine (played by Richard E. Grant, who will never top his role as the Spice Girls' manager in Spice World) ultimately shames Thatcher into resigning by challenging her party leadership.
Even in the face of a dispassionate and ambiguous account of the illustrious prime minister, there is something riveting and surprisingly comical about Streep's interpretation of Thatcher. In the end, this is what wins out over a nondescript history of the political icon's life. But, if ever there is another mainstream film about Thatcher, may I please suggest using Morrissey's "Margaret on the Guillotine" somewhere in the soundtrack? It gives one a genuine portrait of the sentiment felt toward the Iron Lady during her rule over Parliament.