I can’t remember the last time a major prestige release was reviewed by newspaper critics before either the trades or the bloggers got their paws on it — it’s an almost romantically old-school approach, but that’s exactly how the first critical word on “The Iron Lady” has leaked out. Perhaps studio masterminds figured UK print critics might be more invested in a biopic of Britain’s most contentious politician, though they’ve covered their bases by allowing both liberal bastion The Guardian and right-wing rag the Daily Mail at it simultaneously, with the conservative-leaning Telegraph somewhere in the middle.
Considering their different audiences, it’s striking how similarly the Guardian and Telegraph reviews, by Xan Brooks and David Gritten respectively, read in many respects. Both are lukewarm on the film itself, Brooks a little more harshly so: the film is “often silly and suspect,” he says, after accusing the filmmakers of printing the legend and dodging the grim social consequences of its subject’s conservative policies, thereby giving us “Thatcher without Thatcherism.”
The Telegraph is obviously less concerned about this, dismissing the film’s “whistle-stop tour” of Thatcher’s career, but commending it for an even-handed approach — though he predicts US Republicans “will drool over it.”
Still, given that the film has never been marketed or discussed as anything but a potential awards vehicle for Meryl Streep, these are hardly the areas of critique its handlers — or indeed many of you readers, who flocked to comment on the film’s new trailer yesterday — are concerned about. “Does she deliver?” you cry. “Can that already widely-presumed 17th Oscar nod be written down in ink?”
The answer, based on this small sampling of critical opinion, is a probable ‘yes.’ As many of us might have predicted, the critics agree that the actress is substantially better than the film around her — a story familiar from all too many of Streep’s recent Oscar campaigns — and should limber up for a lot of red-carpet walking in the next few months. Per Brooks:
“Streep, it transpires, is the one great weapon of this often silly and suspect picture. Her performance is astonishing and all but flawless; a masterpiece of mimicry which re-imagines Thatcher in all her half-forgotten glory. Streep has the basilisk stare; the tilted, faintly predatory posture. Her delivery, too, is eerily good – a show of demure solicitude, invariably overtaken by steely, wild-eyed stridency.”
Gritten continues the applause for the leading lady:
“Well, those doubts [about Streep’s casting] have been assuaged too; Streep is splendid, giving a detailed, authoritative performance that goes way beyond accurate impersonation to evoke Thatcher”s spirit. One can think of a few talented British actresses who might have acquitted themselves well in the role, but it”s hard to imagine them doing it better than Streep… Awards should be coming Streep”s way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.”
You probably could have anticipated these endorsements months ahead. Streep can be divisively broad of late, so it remains to be seen whether critical consensus settles around her once a wider range of voices chip in — or whether, as in “Doubt,” her performance finds detractors as ardent as its champions. I look forward to seeing the film soon and judging for myself. For now, however, everything seems very much in its right place.