The Iron Lady and J. Edgar are very different yet very similar biopics. The subject matter is different, obviously; The Iron Lady, a portrait of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980s Britain, and J. Edgar (Hoover), the creator of America’s crime investigation bureau (FBI), in 1935. However the treatment, and ultimately the downfall of both films, is similar.
Both films begin in a similar position as we are introduced to the characters in their old age; Meryl Streep (Thatcher) is suffering from dementia while Leonardo DiCaprio (Hoover) has regular visits from the doctor to administer injections of what can only be presumed to be a cocktail of vitamins. These states are constantly referred to throughout the film to provide the structure for reflection on a life’s journey.
While the use of prosthetics is impressive, both films rely too heavily on their aged characters to build on stories that aren’t fleshed out enough. J. Edgar spends too long (137 minutes long) focusing on the uninteresting detail from what could have been interesting case material on bank robberies and murders, and Iron Lady tells us a lot about Thatcher’s decline without teaching us enough about her reign, showing frequent hallucinations of her dead husband (Jim Broadbent), so much so that it picks up an eery presence, constantly reminding us that Margaret Thatcher is still alive today.
Like Thatcher’s dementia, memorable scenes in The Iron Lady are patchy at best. Although Thatcher was well-hated, most people accept her now historical significance as important and relevant today. This being said, only highlights are given of her radical leadership over the 11-years she served as Prime Minister, ranging from the Falklands War in ’82 to the miner’s strike in ’84.
Similarly, for a man who was in office for 37 years, J. Edgar doesn’t seem to have any stories to tell about its main man. The hush-hush nature of the information he handled (still undiscovered today) makes much of the story pass by in a bit of a detail-less haze, filled with almost revelations. Directed by the great Clint Eastwood, the best that can be said of this slow burner is its character’s sentimentality, even though this essentially boils down to a bromance.
However, the acting in both films is commendable, with Meryl Streep giving a Golden Globe winning (BAFTA nominated and, rumoured to be, Oscar nominated) performance, perfectly grasping the voice and overall demeanour of the figure so many have caricatured. DiCaprio too, aces Edgar Hoover, the most famous closet homosexual in American history, giving him a repressed frustration beneath his stiff authority, and warmth towards his devoted secretary and long-time friend, Clyde Tolston.
Overall, these were disappointing from both directors but, looking ahead, the award season may be more forgiving than I.