In the opening scenes of “The Iron Lady” the young Margaret Thatcher, played by Alexandra Roach, is a guest at a dinner. Right out of the box she begins to annoy the men with her pushy young-fem insistence on being taken seriously. The women simply touch their lips and wonder how she got to the table. When dinner is over, she is directed to retire with the ladies to the drawing room, while the men smoke cigars and discuss the issues of the day.

Young Margaret, the feisty daughter of a grocer, somehow can’t believe she has to leave. I was reminded of the scene in “Giant,” when Liz Taylor tried to muscle in on her husband’s cigar hoe down with his cattle buddies. She was quickly told to go to bed.

Right away we know who young Margaret is and who she is to become. She will one day be the first woman Prime Minister of Britain, a semi-royal pain in the butt and a dancing partner, both politically and on the floor, with America’s Iron Guy, Ronald Reagan.

I confess that I know little about Thatcher but for rocker Elvis Costello’s famous song lyric, “When they put you in the ground/I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.” Wow! Take that.

As for the historic figure, I only remember not liking her very much when I read the headlines and listened to her talk from Washington. She struck me as sort of one of those old character actresses from the Ealing Studio days.

Thus I can only speak of what we see here on the silver screen, of the Margaret Thatcher that the great actress Meryl Streep gives us to chew on. The film touches on the highlights of Thatcher: the labor strikes that paralyzed England, the outrageous 1982 mini-war against Argentina in the Falklands that needlessly cost so many lives on both sides.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that it was about the sovereignty of a handful of small nowhere lands in the South Atlantic. Comedically, it all started when a small group of hyper-patriotic Argentine scrap metal merchants raised the Argentine flag at South Georgia. If you’re into comedy, you’ll remember comic Eddie Izzard’s hilarious take on British nationalism, as he strode ashore somewhere and planted a flag. “We have a flag … do you have flag?”

But you’ll be coming to Railroad Square Theater, as many are in droves, packing the seats to watch the fabulous Streep in uncanny makeup, playing the fierce old dame in her dotage. Thankfully, the dust ups with the labor unions, the bloody strikes and IRA bombings are barely touched on, so what you get is what you paid for, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in a ghost story about a little old lady who once lived in a shoe called 10 Downing St.

Now, as we watch, Margaret is living out her last days, wondering what the bloody hell happened to her world, and chatting daily with the ghost of her dead husband, a wonderful, supremely delightful Jim Broadbent who gave the film it’s only real shot of joy.

She is attended to by her daughter Carol and assorted servants and a nice doctor who can plainly see that she is on her way out.

All in all, the film fails to snatch us up, except for the very last scene, in a warm embrace. It maintains throughout, a chill not unlike that which Thatcher gave off, a cold, powdered slip of cold air. Only the tenderness she managed to squeeze out for poor Denis gave a glow.

In reality, I’m convinced that no one but her aging defenders and political science students, really cares anymore about old Margaret. It’s all about Meryl and whether or not she wins the Oscar. I’m betting she won’t, but she sure deserves it. Her work is the best of her career except for her television performance in “Angels In America,” when she played the executed Ethel Rosenberg.

Alexandra Roach is delightful as the young Margaret, as is Harry Lloyd as young Denis Thatcher. “Iron Lady” was directed by Phyllida Lloyd who gave the women of the world their much beloved “Mama Mia.”

Most of Thatcher’s work, the decisions that infuriated labor, and the Irish, are skirted over. The director knows, as I’ve said, why you’re in the seats. You’ve come for a story, a love story of sorts, a ghost story to be sure, of a woman, and an empire, and to marvel at how really good Ms.Streep, who has been nominated l7 times for an award, is. You won’t be disappointed.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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