No one walks quite like Margaret Thatcher. She scurries with her knees bent, the handbag swinging like a tightly wound metronome. In the recently released film, The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep captures Thatcher’s walk just this side of parody. We see the elderly Thatcher darting across a corridor, unseen by the machinegun-toting policemen who share her home—or keep her prisoner, as her husband Dennis Thatcher remarks. The way she moves, she might be the clockwork Iron Lady. She is certainly a shell of her former self. Thatcher is suffering from dementia and her beloved husband is long-dead, a hallucination who is Thatcher’s sole companion in a lonely old age.

The Iron Lady is framed as a series of reminiscences in Thatcher’s failing mind. The key internal drama is her struggle with hallucinations. She knows that the ever-present Dennis is a symptom of her dementia, or madness as she unfashionably insists upon calling it. Yet if she succeeds in banishing Dennis then she will truly be alone (Thatcher discounts her loyal daughter, Carol, played affectingly by Olivia Colman. She always preferred the company of men, we are told). Such a sad, quiet tone inevitably casts a pall over her life. There are grand events, of course. We see the murder of Thatcher’s chief of staff, Airey Neave, and the attempted killing of Thatcher herself by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the decision to sink an Argentine destroyer in the Falklands War, and her final deposing by disloyal ministers. These events are given an operatic grandeur by director Phyllida Lloyd—music swirls, leaves fall, courtiers weep—but they are snapshots that lack the urgency of a continuing unfolding drama.

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