‘The Iron Lady’
Starring: Meryl Streep,
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Don’t make any assumptions about this subject receiving the same biopic treatment as “The Queen.” There are no similarities save for the fact that both deal with iconic figures from recent British history. Abi Morgan’s script is more of a meditation on growing old, and the mounting controversy surrounding the film centers on the depiction of the Iron Lady — Margaret Thatcher.
That Meryl Streep’s performance is perhaps one of the best of her long and stellar career is not in question. What is causing a fuss across the pond is the choice to depict Thatcher in her dotage — an elderly woman in the beginning stages of dementia who carries on conversations with her long-deceased husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent).Now infirm and looked after by caretakers and family, the time period seems to be around 2005 when terrorist bombings occurred in London. This serves as a trigger for the elderly Thatcher to recall her life and career, as highlights from both are told in flashback. So it’s odd and even frustrating that large parts of her career, in particular her close association with another world leader from her era of power — Ronald Reagan, are utterly left out of the film. The only reference is a shot of the two dancing together.Still, director Phyllida Law has made a compelling film even if the depiction of Thatcher is unflattering. We learn about her early years — meeting Dennis (the younger played by Henry Lloyd), her first election to Parliament in 1959 and her subsequent rise to power in Britain’s Conservative party, leading to her 11-and-a-half year reign as prime minister, which is still a record.
There are magnificent and riveting scenes that demonstrate Thatcher’s unyielding force of will — one of her strengths and ultimately her downfall, as is demonstrated in her dressing down of her Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) in a Cabinet meeting. This historical incident precipitated his resignation and led to her Cabinet abandoning her in the next election, which forced her resignation.
Whatever the controversy and the choices of the filmmakers, this film is remarkable for Streep’s performance. You could even say it outshines the material, almost as overpowering as Madam Thatcher herself. We bandy about terms like “the best actress of her generation” or “the greatest living actress,” which are sometimes met with a snort from Streep haters, but this is truly the performance that will convert any non-believers. Last weekend she won the Golden Globe for best actress in a drama, and it is hard to think any of the other nominees for an Oscar can truly compete against what Streep has done here. It is a true transformation into the character spanning 40 years of her life, and every second she is on screen is a wonder. It is a tour de force performance that is some of her best work — ever. And that is saying a lot.
Starring: Jean Dujardin,
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
The initial novelty of a black and white silent film gives way almost immediately into what is a wonderful story about a bygone era. It’s engaging and highly entertaining, with credit going to its star, French actor Jean Dujardin. With slicked back hair and a pencil moustache, he evokes early matinee idols such as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.Written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius, the film centers around Dujardin as George Valentin, the most famous silent film actor at the advent of the talkies. He balks at the new technology, telling the studio head (played by John Goodman) audiences don’t flock to theaters to see him “talk.”
Stuck in a lifeless marriage with Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), George must resist the flirtations from chorine Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). They should be together, but they are destined to be star-crossed as Valentin’s career slides into decline while Peppy’s star is on the rise as the new America’s sweetheart of talking pictures.
Hazanavicius has crafted a true love letter to the beginnings of the film industry with meticulous detail. Actually shot in color and processed in black and white the visuals, sets and costumes re-create the time period flawlessly. Even the “Hollywood” sign has been restored to the original “Hollywoodland” it would have been in the 1920s. Composer Ludovic Bource fills in the original score to illustrate what cannot be spoken and also borrows from such great composers as Bernard Herrmann in what is one of the film’s best sequences.
From beginning to end, “The Artist” is delightful and one of the most original and artistic film experiences of this season. It won the Golden Globe last weekend, and it is almost a sure bet to win a Best Picture Oscar.
Both of these films are currently playing in Houston theaters.