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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Iron Lady

April 9th, 2012

The Iron Lady - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Two-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack

The Iron Lady opened on January 30th, the second to final day to qualify for Oscars. You know it was made to win awards. However, while Meryl Streep earned praise, and an Oscar, for her performance, the overall reviews were far less glowing. Was the film flawed outside of the lead performance? Or were the expectations just too high?

The Movie

We first meet Margaret Thatcher as she's buying milk at a corner store and is unrecognized by the clerk or her fellow shoppers. When she gets home she complains to her husband, Denis, that the price of milk has gone up. However, her husband died five years ago. (He's still very chatty.) Mrs. Thatcher has been dealing with dementia as well, leaving her confused and having trouble telling what day, or year it is. (Very early in the film she is signing copies of her memoir, but she's accidentally using her maiden name.)

She reminisces about her time as a young lady during World War II and working at her father's shop. We see how listening to his political speeches affected her philosophy. Her acceptance to Oxford, her early political career, trying to fit in with an all male parliament, and her eventual rise to power. We also see her early life with her family and how her political career took a toll and her family life. Because we bounce back and forth between various timelines, it's hard to describe the plot in any real detail before we hit spoilers, so we have to stop the plot summary there.

This non-chronological framework makes it hard to talk about the movie without hitting spoilers, but it also makes it less compelling as a biography. We don't get to learn as much about Margaret Thatcher as we would like, because there's too much of an art house aesthetic to the movie. Bouncing back and forth is good to keep a viewer disoriented, which is useful for a suspense film, but not here. The flashbacks, the hallucinations of Denis Thatcher, etc. just distracts from the story that should have been told. It all feels like a gimmick rather than an organic part of the movie.

We also don't learn much about her politics, because the filmmakers strive too hard to be neutral in an attempt to avoid offending anyone. This didn't work, by the way. The people on the right have attacked this film for showing the most powerful woman in politics during her day as a senile old woman. Meanwhile people on the left have attacked the film for whitewashing the very real negative effects her policies had. Her popularity within the United Kingdom was never that great, in part because of her unwillingness or inability to compromise, and in part because many of her policies had a devastating effect on the middle-class.

So The Iron Lady clearly has flaws, but it also has some strengths as well. Meryl Streep is fantastic as the leading lady, while many of the supporting actors, especially Jim Broadbent, add a lot to the movie. I would say the film is worth watching for some of the performances, but don't go into the movie expecting a deeper understanding of Margaret Thatcher as a person or a politician.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray. There is a 12-minute making of featurette, plus a quartet of featurettes that are mostly just repeating what was said in the main making of featurette. There is a featurette on the fashion, which is not culled from the main featurette, but it is also only 3 minutes long. Finally, there is an 18-minute featurette called History Goes to the Cinema, which looks at several films with an historical focus. It is interesting, but given the films chosen, it feels like an ad for other Weinstein Co. films.

On the other hand, while the Blu-ray's extras are really weak, the technical presentation is very strong. The video is nearly perfect with excellent details, deep blacks, etc. It goes without saying that there are no compression issues and there are no signs of digital manipulation. Granted, it is not a visually impressive movie and the colors are sometimes muted. Likewise, the audio is crystal clear and there's a surprising amount of ambient sounds, directional effects, and LFE.

Finally we get to the price. The DVD costs just $15 and the Blu-ray Combo Pack costs $20. $5 more is a good price to pay, especially since it comes with the DVD and a Digital Copy.

The Verdict

The Iron Lady doesn't illuminate the life of Margaret Thatcher as a person or as a politician. It does provide the viewer with yet another example of Meryl Streep's mastery of the craft and for many, that will be enough to watch the film. If you are interested in buying the movie, the Two-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack is the better deal over just the DVD, but for most a rental will be enough.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Iron Lady