I didn't so much like "The Iron Lady" as greatly admire and respect this fascinating film, especially Meryl Streep's extraordinary channeling (How else to describe her uncanny abilities?) of Great Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, first female occupant of 10 Downing Street.

Thatcher is a polarizing figure in British and international politics, from her handling of the Falklands War, to her velvet glove (with that iron fist inside) handling of the labor movement, to her clinging onto power ("I am the Prime Minister."), only to resign 11 and one-half years after a decade mostly remembered, here in the United States, at least, for MTV "hair bands."

The often riveting and frequently engrossing film could have been dubbed "Thatcher's Brain." At the outset, director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mama Mia!") and screenwriter Abi Morgan ("Shame") present Thatcher in her dotage, when she communes with her deceased husband Denis (a delightfully whimsical Jim Broadbent).

These scenes take up so much of "The Iron Lady" as to suggest another alternative title: "Séances With Thatcher."

Still, it's not an unwise choice, else "The Iron Lady" would have not been much more than a documentary (not that that's a bad thing, either). The near-infirm Thatcher flashbacks to her youth, early political career (Alexandra Roach is the young Thatcher in the film's first 30 minutes) and crowning glories.

The film invokes gender politics. Mrs. Thatcher reminds us she is a mother, although as a mum she was also apparently a bit steely. Even so, this Thatcher portrayal is humanized. "The pearls are nonnegotiable," she tells two political consultants, digging in the heels of her two-tone black and white pumps, while agreeing to forego hats for her famous helmet hair (seemingly iron, too). And, yes, she can never quite resist a turn to "Shall We Dance" from "The King and I." Guess who leads?

With the assiduously art-directed, costumed, lensed and edited "Iron Lady" we get enough of a glimpse of the era and, apparently, enough accuracy as to gain insight into Mrs. Thatcher and her "Thatcherisms." Her emphasis on the thought, word, action, character, destiny paradigm rather than the present preoccupation with feelings is worthy of a graduate seminar.

This largely sympathetic portrayal invokes tremendous respect for the first female leader of a western nation, a trailblazer not only for feminists, but Ronald Reagan style conservatism resonating right on up to the Florida Republican Primary.

Mrs. Thatcher did all this and more. And she did so, wearing a double-strand of pearls.

She was, after all, quite a lady.

"The Iron Lady," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for some violent images and brief nudity; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: It has been reported that Margaret Thatcher was not near the Palace of Westminster when Airey Neave was assassinated by a car bomb, as depicted in "The Iron Lady."

Box Office, Jan. 27: "The Grey" opened at No. 1, $20 million, dropping "Underworld: Awakening" to No. 2, $12.5 million, $45.1 million, two weeks, and keeping "One For The Money," opening at No. 3, $11.7 million;

4. "Red Tails," $10.4 million, $33.8 million, two weeks; 5. "Man On A Ledge," $8.2 million, opening; 6. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," $7.1 million, $21.1 million, six weeks; 7. "The Descendants," $6.5 million, $58.8 million, 11 weeks; 8. "Contraband," $6.5 million, $56.4 million, three weeks; 9. "Beauty and the Beast 3D," $5.3 million, $41.1 million, three weeks; 10. "Haywire," $4 million, $15.2 million, two weeks; 14. "The Iron Lady," $3.1 million; $17.5 million, five weeks

Oscar Watch: The Screen Actors Guild Awards, Jan. 29, and the Directors Guild Awards, Jan. 28, provide additional impetus for Oscar favorites.

"The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius received the DGA. Jean Dujardin received the actor SAG award for "The Artist." Christopher Plummer received the supporting male SAG award. "The Artist" received the Producers Guild Award Jan. 21 for Thomas Langmann.

Viola Davis received the female actor SAG award for "The Help." Octavia Spencer received the female supporting actor SAG award for "The Help." The SAG cast award went to "The Help."

Unreel, Feb. 3:

"Big Miracle," PG: A reporter recruits a Greenpeace volunteer to save gray whales in the Arctic Circle. Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski star in the romantic-drama.

"Chronicle," PG-13: The science fiction film is about three high school friends whose bonds are tested after they gain superpowers.

"The Innkeepers," R: Two employees reveal a hotel's haunted past. Sara Paxton and Kelly McGillis star in the horror-thriller.

"The Woman In Black," PG-13: Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") stars in the horror-thriller as a young lawyer who discovers a scorned woman's ghost terrorizing a town.

"W.E.," R: Madonna directs a romantic drama starring Abbie Cornish and James D'Arcy based on the romance of King Edward VIII and United States' citizen Wallis Simpson.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes