Can an impersonation be so good that it bends the line separating fact and fiction? So brutally honest that it incites more questions than it attempts to answer? As Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) confirms in “The Iron Lady,” we really can be brought to question what we know — or think we know — to be fact.

The Iron Lady

At Quality 16 and Rave
The Weinstein Company

No doubt about it: Meryl Streep is freaking awesome. But no matter how well-executed the portrayal of its protagonist, “The Iron Lady” is a dull and scattered affair. Director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mama Mia”), in an attempt to create a balanced depiction of Margaret Thatcher, spends too much time focusing on the inconsequential aspects of the former Prime Minister’s life. We get too much about the husband and children Thatcher left behind and virtually nothing concerning the polarizing political policies she put in place as the first female leader of Great Britain.

And it’s unfortunate, because the same gender stigmas Thatcher challenged with her appointment are painfully apparent in this movie. The telling of a male leader’s story wouldn’t require ceaseless commentary about his shortcomings as a father and husband. Nor would it breeze over the better part of said leader’s political undertakings via a meaningless montage sequence.

But in “The Iron Lady,” that’s exactly what happens, leaving the audience with a typical rags-to-riches story of a grocer’s daughter going off to college, and eventually, tentatively dipping her foot into the political arena.

The film is a tedious, boilerplate biopic that takes itself too seriously and struggles to hold on to our attention as it stumbles across the finish line. The most frustrating part is that it wouldn’t have been completely meaningless if Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan (“Shame”) spent some time adding life to Thatcher’s surroundings. If there was a character other than Thatcher’s dead husband (Jim Broadbent, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) — whose ghost shows up from time to time to offer sage advice — that had been thoughtfully developed, the film could’ve gone in a different direction. Sadly, such a character never shows up, and all we’re left with is Lloyd’s agonizingly deliberate style of direction.

The constantly moving camera and changing line of vision seem intriguing at first but begin looking more and more forced as the film progresses. By the time we get to the last few scenes, the dialogue feels suffocated — a consequence of heavy-handed direction that doesn’t allow the script a chance to flow naturally. And once the end credits roll, we end up feeling sad for two reasons: for the seven perfectly good dollars we’ll never get back again, and for the Oscar-worthy performance by Streep that goes to utter waste in the hands of an average director and an unexceptional script.

Undoubtedly, Streep’s portrayal will leave a lasting impact on anyone who watches this film and has some recollection of how galvanizing a figure Margaret Thatcher really was. Unfortunately, the discerning character analysis we’ve come to expect from Streep isn’t enough to make this film anything more than a dreary symbol of mediocrity.

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