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Alex Bailey, the Weinstein Company
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe in the perfectly cast "The Iron Lady."

"THE IRON LADY" — ★★1/2 — Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant; PG-13 ( violent images and brief nudity); in general release

For the new movie "The Iron Lady," here's the bottom line: Meryl Streep is fabulous. The film is not.

Streep seems to absolutely channel the first and only woman to ever serve as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

We're introduced to Margaret Thatcher in her old age as she scurries through a local store muttering about the high price of a pint of milk.

Upon arriving home, she continues her lament across the kitchen table with her husband, Denis. These actions are of concern to her daughter and staff for several reasons; first, she should not be out in public without protection; and second, Denis is dead.

Jim Broadbent stars as Denis, and throughout the film he pops in and out to chat with, chide, console, reminisce with and even bedevil his still living wife, all while filmmakers use this as an excuse to pop us back and forth through Thatcher's history.

Sadly, this is just one of the many distractions and disconnects that detract from the story.

And the story is quite amazing.

From humble beginnings as a grocer's daughter to her rise to the heights of world power, Thatcher's story is replete with spectacular successes and devastating failures. Despite the bizarre construction of the movie, occasionally we really do get some brilliant insights.

Alexandra Roach depicts the younger Thatcher being wooed by Denis; it's a priceless scene that defines their relationship, underscoring Margaret's ambitions and her nontraditional expectations of husband and family.

Other high points focus on the prime minister dealing with very tough situations, including labor strife, war in the Falklands, the IRA, a near successful assassination attempt at a Brighton hotel and, of course, the last decade of the Cold War.

Her classic denunciations of the Soviet Union caused them to dub her "The Iron Lady." These moments feel like mere vignettes disjointedly linked together and are highlights because Meryl Streep makes them so.

Most distressing is the depiction of Thatcher as unbalanced and/or delusional. If you're going to make that a substantial factor in a story's presentation — not only in old age but even in time of service — you'd better take the time for some substantiation and explanation.

Love her or hate her, The Iron Lady is legendary and her story deserves better.

Meryl Streep gets four stars; the movie, only 2½.

"The Iron Lady" is rated PG-13 for violent images and brief nudity; running time: 104 minutes.