What saves these sequences from being cruel or camp is Streep’s emotional investiture in the role. Even though the aging makeup is not wonderful, she manages to poke through the latex (or whatever it is) and show us a woman who is still, when she snaps to reality, a formidable force.
Interspersing these modern-day scenes director Phyllida Lloyd, who last worked with Streep on the ga-ga “Mamma Mia!,” rolls out Thatcher’s life in boringly chronological fashion. We see young Margaret (well played by Alexandra Roach) as a grocer’s daughter who attends Oxford, enters Parliament in 1959, and successfully challenges Edward Heath (John Sessions) for leadership of the Conservative Party. Occasional newsreel clips punctuate the action, which encompasses a vast flurry of Thatcher’s greatest hits: the financial deregulations and privatizations, the attacks on trade unions, the miners’ strike of 1983, the poll tax riots of 1990, the Falklands escapade. Just to show that it wasn’t all bad times, there is also a brief, obligatory shot of her dancing at a state function with Ronald Reagan.