From Mary Burgan. Email her at [email protected].
The Oscar nominations are out and the last-minute scramble to see nominated-movies is on. Today Mary reviews the performanes of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, both nominated for Actress in a Leading Role.
Many reviewers of The Iron Lady have been too hard on a movie that should deal more seriously with politics, since it’s about a politician. Or so they complain, But the film is far less concerned with political rights and wrongs than with a particular human life, that of Margaret Thatcher, recalled in vivid fragments through a mind beginning to fail.
Given that focus, the film must portray a consciousness that has become unable to discriminate clearly between past and present. The movie as written and directed gives Meryl Streep the opportunity to project this extraordinary, fluctuating state of awareness. It is hard to see how it could have done so while dramatizing political issues and events in anything like their real-life complexity.
Of course, Streep looks so much like Thatcher that the two images simply merge in the film. As a result I felt much more genuine empathy with Thatcher in The Iron Lady than I had expected, and while primary credit for that surprise has to go to Streep, I think the others involved in making the movie deserve credit for making it possible.
The script takes advantage of Thatcher’s famous take-no-prisoners language in her rise to power. There is delight in her forcefulness, even when the film has her enunciate non-politically correct statements, such as the on her decision to defend the Falkland Islands in 1982: “With all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day of my life and many men have underestimated me before. This lot seem bound to do the same, but they will rue the day.” In Streep’s portrayal, Thatcher never merely speaks; she enunciates.
Special notice should go to Jim Broadbent, the British actor who portrays Denis Thatcher both as an easy companion and a comic inhabitant of Margaret’s senescent daydreams. His appearances are not so much justifications of Thatcher’s political decisions as occasions for witty or sentimental relief. In all, then, The Iron Lady managed to win over this resolutely liberal — “wet” in Thatcher language — viewer.
Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs
The interaction between inner and outer lives is a significant feature of Albert Nobbs, another film that gives a major American actress plenty of room to display her talent. In Albert Nobbs, the actress is Glenn Close. Like Streep, Close is nominated for an Oscar this year for a bravura performance that embodies the title character. But such a simplistic conception of Close’s role in Albert Nobbs, like Streep’s in The Iron Lady, neglects that fact that each film amounts to more than its title character.
Close does play the role of “Nobbs,” a diminutive, cross-dressed male waiter in late 19th Century Dublin, with an intensity that warrants her Oscar nomination. But that intensity is almost too much of a sad thing. The rest of the cast sustains the story’s interest, as Nobbs’ stunted life slowly modulates into something more than a mindless waste. It becomes tragic.
Albert Nobbs is less a self-indulgent star vehicle than a sensitive study of the ways in which servants in a marginal but pretentious Dublin hotel can finally pay homage to a life they barely knew. The film achieves this revelation through a number of fine performances — Mia Wasikowska as Helen, the flip chamber maid who eventually becomes the object of Nobbs’ affections; Pauline Collins as Mrs. Baker, the flirtatious but grasping hotel owner; Brendan Gleeson as an alcoholic resident doctor who has enough insight to summarize the import of the story, and Janet McTeer as a house painter employed for a day or so by Mrs. Baker
Nobbs has no idea who he/she is, but Hubert Page, another cross-dressing woman and self-acknowledged lover of women, is a fully aware and serves as a tough/tender liberator. It’s all very Irish and repressed, though there’s never a priest or nun in sight.
Albert Nobbs shares the brilliance of the story of The Iron Maiden, and not just because talented actresses spend themselves without stint in their roles. Each movie is more than a starring role.
It would be a shame to choose sides. Just go to see both.