That Margaret Thatcher loved her husband and misses him terribly in her twilight years is a lovely enough sentiment and something of a contrast to her armor-clad public image, but somehow it, and not her history-shaping tenure as prime minister, has become the central focus of Phyllida Lloyd's misguided biopic. Meryl Streep's impression of Thatcher is predictably uncanny, but the familiar Thatcher is left as a series of noble head-held-high poses broken up by the occasional ferocious outburst; the script gives her no opportunity to provide the type of below-the-surface insight that would qualify it as a full-fledged performance.
An outsized percentage of screen time is handed over to the modern-day Thatcher, depicted as a doddering old woman slipping into senility while a vision of the late Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) appears to dote and hector her. A slipup while signing copies of her autobiography leads to a series of flashbacks, but each brief glimpse of the past is hurried through, the whole film edited like a trailer for itself. The IRA is reduced to a couple of things blowing up, the end of the Cold War to news footage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Falklands to a strategy meeting — but the elderly Thatcher's struggle with sorting through her husband's old shoes is given monumental status.
Which might have worked if there were a unique love story to tell, but the Thatchers' courtship is rushed as carelessly as every other aspect of her storied life as the framing story runs away with the film. Lloyd musters up enough fiery debate moments along the way to suggest something about Thatcher's early struggles with male-dominated politics hardening into a bitter iron-handedness, but the main thrust remains a fairly tedious golden-years melodrama. Count it somewhere just under Pierce Brosnan's singing voice on the list of the Mamma Mia! director's most inexplicable decisions.