Streep Dodders as Forgetful Thatcher; Iran’s ‘Separation’: Film

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." The film is directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Source: The Weinstein Company via Bloomberg

The lacquered hair, the stern look, the commanding voice: Meryl Streep does a splendid impersonation of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

Streep has a harder time getting inside Thatcher’s head in this surprisingly bland biopic about the U.K.’s first and only female prime minister.

Thatcher was a divisive, transformative figure in British politics, a woman who overcame gender and class bias to lead a conservative revolution. “The Iron Lady” boils it all down to simplistic anecdotes, relayed through tiresome flashbacks.

The film, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) and written by Abi Morgan (“Shame”), alternates between contemporary scenes of an elderly, dementia-stricken Thatcher and earlier episodes documenting her rise from grocer’s daughter to world’s most powerful woman.

“The Iron Lady” focuses more on her personality than her politics. Thatcher’s crusades against communism, welfare and unions -- she faced down striking miners and crushed their powerful organization -- don’t get as much attention as her battles with the old-boy network and her tenacious refusal to mollify critics.

Streep nails Thatcher’s schoolmarm tone and rigid mannerisms, though the former prime minister’s authorized biographer claims the actress got the walk wrong: not fast enough, he says.

Tough Talker

More problematic is the script, which doesn’t give Streep enough creative space to explore the character. Thatcher alters her voice to sound more authoritative and changes her wardrobe to look more businesslike, but rarely do we glimpse the intellectual power that allowed her to shake up a tradition-bound country.

Like her political soul mate Ronald Reagan, Thatcher is suffering from memory loss in her twilight years.

Her admirers may be disturbed by depictions of the now 86-year-old as a doddering old lady who thinks her late husband (Jim Broadbent) is still alive and can’t remember where her son lives. I was more bothered by the film’s shallow treatment of its subject.

“The Iron Lady,” from the Weinstein Co., has opened in New York and Los Angeles, with a wide U.S. release on Jan. 13. Rating: **

‘A Separation’

Two middle-class Iranian parents sit in plain wooden chairs, facing the camera as they argue before an unseen marital judge.

Simin, an attractive redhead wearing a gray headscarf, wants to leave the country with her husband Nader and their 11-year-old daughter, Termeh, to seek a better life. Nader, a bearded bank worker, refuses to go because he wants to care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father.

It’s a simple start to “A Separation,” Asghar Farhadi’s complex, richly rewarding movie about marriage, class and subterfuge in modern-day Iran.

When they separate, Simin (Leila Hatami) moves in with her parents and Nader (Peyman Moadi) stays with his ailing father. Termeh, played by the director’s daughter Sarina, is forced to choose sides and lives with her dad.

Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a pregnant, deeply religious young woman, to help care for his father. But after he accuses her of stealing and neglecting the old man, they get in a heated argument and Nader pushes her out of the apartment.

Razieh has a miscarriage and blames Nader, leading to back-and-forth allegations that are all hybrids of truth and fiction. Farhadi does a masterful job of slowly unraveling the puzzle, never letting the audience see the big picture until the end.

“A Separation,” from Sony Pictures Classics, has opened in New York and Los Angeles, with a wide U.S. release in January. Persian, with English subtitles. Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
No stars      Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)

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