Iron Lady, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe watches Streep do her best Maggie Thatcher, privatises his review...
The only way Oliver Stone could make a good movie out of Richard Nixon’s life was to strip away the controversy to reveal the man’s humanity. His well-managed (overlong) 1995 bio-pic of the much maligned ex-president was rewarded with terrible box-office receipts, so tried to take a more comedic stance when he adapted the life of another controversial Republican president in 2008, embracing George W. Bush’s misspent youth and dopey charms. He was again greeting with terrible box-office, and made a generally bad movie, but it was a good idea. When word came down Phyllida Lloyd was making a movie adaptation of the rise and fall of conservative maven Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s longest serving 20th century Prime Minister (not to mention the only woman Prime Minister), it seemed to me that Stone’s failed semi-comedic approach would be the best way to go. The obvious options would be to deal with Thatcher either as a tortured villain, or as some kind of misunderstood hero, but there are already too many stone-faced, Oscar-baiting bio-pics in the world, and why would the director of something as weightless as Mama Mia want to take a heavy-handed and heavily traveled route? In the end Lloyd kind of splits the difference between rock and roll and standard stoicism, but doesn’t infuse nearly as much comedy as I had expected.
This story begins with an elderly Thatcher generally forgotten by a post-9/11 society and left to suffer dementia in lonely semi-exile. Thatcher’s dementia is an obvious gimmick, but offers Lloyd a chance to tell the story in a fluid flashback structure that should be difficult to follow, but is actually quite smooth and quite effective. Visually and rhythmically The Iron Lady is quite good (showing pleasant shades of Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee), and this sustains the film for long stretches of its comparatively modest runtime. Lloyd risks overusing push-ins, Dutch angles, and shots of frowning men looking down on Thatcher’s point of view, but a strong graphic sense is better than none at all (cough, cough King’s Speech, cough). The general plot follows the basic expectations of a modern bio-pic, which is to say it predictably skips along the important moments of the subject’s life without really adding all that much context into the subject’s actual character. It’s the Cliff’s Notes approach, or worse an unintentional parody of the Cliff’s Notes approach, cheapening Thatcher’s struggle to something akin to a sit-com pilot. Lloyd also appears to be avoiding the meat of the politics, casting Thatcher as an everywoman with a strong sense of self, rather than an incredibly unique politician with the conviction and power to make people hate her to this day. Lloyd clumsily tries to draw comparisons to modern economic issues, but the politics are mostly represented by meaningless and ostentatious montages, and greater emphasis is placed on the gender roles, leading Thatcher from a spirited youth, to a mean-spirited bully, and eventually a pathetic old woman.
Of course any time you cast Meryl Streep in your movie Oscar talk will be thrown about, and sometimes she’ll even win an award without even really trying. Bio-pics featuring big name actors doing spot-on impressions of dead celebrities always win boring, undeserved Oscars, but I really don’t think that’s why Streep took on this particular role. Streep is having as much here as she did with Mama Mia (a film I hated, but I couldn’t miss how much fun everyone was having on that particular film), playing Thatcher just south of Saturday Night Live caricature-levels of ham (in comparison Anthony Hopkins largely played Richard Nixon without impersonation). Why the British-based production (partially paid for by the UK Film Council and Media Rights Capital) wouldn’t chose one of the UK’s many capable actresses for the role is a bit confusing, but I suppose you simply don’t say no when Meryl Streep steps forward to take a role in your film.
Shot on 35mm film, The Iron Lady is a gritty, grainy, and generally quite desaturated motion picture. At this point I just assume Britain itself looks gritty, grainy, and generally desaturated thanks to the movies I watch. Anyway, this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer looks quite nice for type. Detail levels aren’t blindingly sharp thanks to a relatively shallow general focus level, but there’s plenty of fine texture, and some very complex patterns. Grain roughens up some of the softer background edges as well. The colours are usually dim and graded to appear incredibly consistent. The base look of the film is usually either kind of sepia or blue based with pastel colour highlights and deep supporting blacks. One of the film’s constant visual themes is Thatcher’s powder blue coat and skirt, and the way it juxtaposes against the black, blue and browns of her male counterparts. This particular shade of blue is almost always a part of Streep’s wardrobe, and in the few instances it isn’t the actress’ eyes are digitally tinted to a similar hue. Later in the film the men around begin to turn a bit bluer, and Thatcher is more greatly represented by warmer colours, especially reds. These colours are well separated without bleeding effects, and very little in the way of digital artifacts, outside of occasional edge enhancement. The dusty anamorphic lenses capture a lot of glowing background highlights, and even some reflective images, but these are part of the visual motif and not an issue with the transfer itself.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack gets off to a strong start despite what most of us would assume would be a relatively low-key, dialogue heavy mix. The overall effect is still pretty low-key and dialogue heavy, I suppose, but it’s covered with directional movement, including soft and realistic ambient immersion, and simple forward-facing character movement (when a speaking character moves off screen their voice and clothing follows). The sound design isn’t entirely subjective, but does take Thatcher’s point of view into account, and creates a lot of multi channel sound design through her dementia driven hallucinations. One of the better samples comes just before the hour mark when Thatcher turns on the television, radio and many other household appliances to drown out the voice of her dead husband in her head. The mix also occasionally comes to bombastic life through punched-up archive war footage and IRA bombs, both of which give the LFE something to do outside of supporting Thomas Newman’s eclectic score. The films music is largely based in traditional themes, but takes some unexpectedly surreal turns during low energy sequences, and features some heavy percussive elements throughout.
Special features start with the Making of the Iron Lady (12:20, SD), a EPK style look behind the scenes with director Phyllida Lloyd, writer Abi Morgan, and actors Meryl Streep, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Head, Jim Broadbent, Harry Lloyd, Alexandra Roach and Olivia Colman. Subject matter covers mostly Lloyd’s directing style and the cast. This is followed by a series of brief and fluffy featurettes, many of them featuring recycled dialogue, Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher (2:40, SD), a look at Alexandra Roach’s and Harry Lloyd’s performances, Battle in the House of Commons (2:30, SD), a look at the filming of the boxing ring style of political filming, and Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits (2:40, SD), a look at costume designer Consolata Boyle’s work on the film. Things end with trailers for other Miramax releases.
The Iron Lady isn’t going to please Margaret Thatcher’s fans or detractors, and director Phyllida Lloyd oversimplifies just about every political intricacy in the story. However, it is a stylistically impressive and fast moving film, and it’s never boring. Meryl Streep’s performance isn’t what I’d consider Oscar-worthy, but it’s fun and entertaining enough to carry the film a bit beyond its technical achievements. This Blu-ray release isn’t going to knock anybody’s socks off, but the desaturated and grainy look is well served by the HD video, and the occasionally surrealistic sound design is nicely supported by this DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras, on the other hand, are almost a total waste of EPK fluff.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 10th April 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Making The Iron Lady, Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher, Battle in the House of Commons, Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits, Denis: The Man Behind the Woman, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Anthony Head, Richard E Grant, Olivia Colman, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd
Length: 105 minutes
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