Margaret Thatcher (Streep) is out of her mind: Doddering around her home in present-day London in a dementia-fueled haze, intoning “Milk’s gone up!” at doting hubby Denis (Broadbent) during their morning repast. The catch is that Denis is dead, a sort of jokester Jiminy Cricket who acts as Mags’s Alzheimer’s-induced confidant while the former politician recalls her rise to power.
Thatcher may be out to lunch in more ways than one, but that doesn’t stop director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) from trying to nudge her into your heart in this sentimental, whitewashed biopic of the controversial British prime minister. The life and highlights – so to speak – of Thatch’s career are exhibited like a tricked-out greatest-hits reel: From lowly (but tenacious!) grocer’s daughter to stringent (and still tenacious!) player on the world stage, there’s barely an incident from the right honourable PM’s regime that Lloyd doesn’t gild with distracting Dutch angles or chintzy archival-footage montages. There’s also a laughable attempt to remold Thatcher’s legacy into a feminist crusade, turning events like the Falkland Islands brouhaha and the mid-’80s miners strike into mere patriarchal speed bumps that our heroine must overcome. All the oversimplification and revisionism distracts from Streep, who is unsurprisingly excellent – even under tons of old-age makeup – as a woman losing her grip and grappling with the things she’s done. This iron lady of cinema deserves better.