American conservatives and admirers of Margaret Thatcher the world over seem to be approaching The Iron Lady, a new biopic about the former British Prime Minister, with justifiable skepticism. Hollywood isn’t exactly celebrated for its fair – let alone favorable – treatment of political figures who dare to defy Tinseltown’s notorious liberal consensus. Decidedly mixed reviews and cries of bias from certain quarters have also fed many Thatcher fans’ reticence to reward the filmmakers with their hard-earned dollars. Fortunately, conservatives have little to fear from The Iron Lady, which surprises with a moving, even-handed and, at times, inspirational portrayal of one of the Right’s twentieth century titans.
Much of the buzz about this project has revolved around Meryl Streep’s role as Lady Thatcher, and with good reason: Streep is sensational. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan captured the depth of Streep’s performance in a recent Wall Street Journal column. “The masterpiece is Meryl Streep's portrayal of Mrs. Thatcher, which is not so much a portrayal as an inhabitation. It doesn't do justice to say Ms. Streep talks like her, looks like her, catches some of her spirit, though those things are true. It's something deeper than that, something better and more important,” she wrote.
But the heart of the movie isn’t Streep’s uncanny skill in capturing her subject’s essence. Rather, the film’s strength is its subject’s essence – her life story, her principles, and her extraordinary achievements. In spite of whispers to the contrary, The Iron Lady does not gloss over or dismiss Margaret Thatcher’s philosophical core as an unpleasant side show. The film ably tracks Thatcher’s unmistakably conservative course, beginning with a scene in which a young Thatcher (then named Margaret Roberts, played beautifully by Alexandra Roach) witnesses her father – a local grocer – deliver an impassioned speech on the value of hard work and self-reliance. Years later, as a low-ranking minister in Britain’s Conservative government, Thatcher counsels her poll-obsessed superiors against capitulating to labor unions’ demands during the throes of a destructive strike. Though her sage advice is discarded with a condescending pat on the head, her political courage is galvanized.