Oscar Blindspots: The Iron Lady/Albert Nobbs

Before we get done with 2021, I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 2011

A pair of longtime Best Actress nominees of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close both shared a lineup in 2011, but what did I make of these films and performances with a decade of hindsight?

The Iron Lady
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) had a complicated legacy. Rising from the meager ranks of being the daughter of a grocer, she became the first female Prime Minister of Great Brittian. But in her later years, she is seeing her dead husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) still talking to her as she reflects on her years in office.

As The Crown has shown, Thatcher certainly warrants some assessment after all these years. The problem with The Iron Lady is that the film has nothing to say. She was a woman surrounded by men. She was a staunch fiscal conservative. She alienated key members of her party. This was not a big reveal. Something was driving this woman and it is never explained or even touched upon for what drove her. More than anything, she just wanted it because she did.

Streep’s Oscar win was controversial at the time but is unexplainable after watching the movie. Her characterization is as empty as the film. Streep looks and sounds relatively like Thatcher, but that’s where the similarities end. She never feels like Margaret Thatcher, rather like Meryl Streep doing a B/B+ Thatcher impression. There is no depth given to her character and nothing is reached beyond the surface level. One of the more inexplicable Oscar wins.

The supporting cast has little to do. Broadbent gets to be a bubbly personality now and again but has little impact. Olivia Colman is covered in distracting makeup that obscures any attempt at depth for her character. Other British character actors pop in and are given next to nothing to do.

If this was anyone but Meryl Streep, this film would have never escaped the drudgery of its quality. Luckily for the film, Streep had sway and the film ended up as a modest success. It’s a testament to Streep’s inherent likeability that it was possible because this film is just not good.

Albert Nobbs
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a butler at an upscale Irish hotel in the late 19th-century. Newcomers to the hotel staff open Albert up to unveiling his secret: he was born a woman. Albert looks to the future, scrapping and saving to buy a tobacconist shop. He meets a kindred spirit in Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) and grows affectionate towards maid Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska). The arrival of a handsome, but mysterious handyman Joe Mackins (Aaron Johnson) puts Albert’s promising future into question.

The story of Nobbs feels ripe for dramatization, but the film has an oddly mixed message. Nobbs’ desires are to own a small business and have a wife to help him tend to it. That is the limit to his desires. The film offers little insight into Albert outside of wanting to own a business. Even his living life as a man is born out of luck and need. There is no message or desire about identity. He’s a man and that is that.

Close is her usual dependable self, though it does become difficult to separate Close from the character she is portraying. There is supposed to be this suspension of disbelief that both Close and McTeer are obviously men, but that never truly translates. Close is all repression and subtlety. McTeer has much more to express and acquits herself well. Despite both actresses’ best efforts, the success of their performances is never matched by the film itself.

Johnson and Wasikowska do little more for their characters beyond looking pretty. Johnson especially is a fairly despicable character that is never cared for or developed by the film. Brenda Fricker pops up for a momentary scene-thievery, but it only happens once. Brendan Gleeson plays one of the true decent humans in the film, but his presence is stunted as well.

Both The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs represent showcase parts for some of the greatest actresses of our lifetimes. Unfortunately, their films are such muddled messes, neither can transcend their film’s mediocrity.


Next week: Tough guys get sensitive with Warrior and A Better Life

All Oscar Blindspots

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