‘The Iron Lady” — a term coined as a hostile criticism of Margaret Thatcher by the Red Army newspaper in 1976 — proved to be an accurate prediction of her impact in the Cold War. It is, however, an ironic and ultimately misleading title for this Meryl Streep portrayal of the last British prime minister to play a major role on the world stage as she lives in lonely retirement. A better one would have been The Lioness in Winter.
For the film’s narrative is framed as a series of flashbacks in the memory of an elderly Lady Thatcher grieving over the death of her husband some years before. We first encounter her as a slightly confused old lady who, having escaped her police escort, is buying a pint of milk in a local store. She returns home to complain about its price to Denis, who is as lively in death as he was in life: He crops up regularly throughout the movie’s narrative of his wife’s political career to comment on her memories, her decisions, her ambition, her guilt, and her selfishness while she packs his clothes and other effects. When others are around, however, he conveniently disappears into the woodwork. Whether she is aware that “Denis” is a hallucination is never really clear — until the very end of the movie, when, all his belongings having been dispatched to a charity shop, he walks away into the next world, leaving his wife alone and bereft.