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The new film “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, initially presented the left-leaning filmmakers with a quandary: how to put forth an Oscar-worthy portrayal without simultaneously honoring a revered icon of the right. They seem to have solved it by making this film about a feminist icon, not a conservative one.
Due for wide release in the U.S. this month, “The Iron Lady” depicts Thatcher’s professional and personal rise and decline, from provincial grocer’s daughter to the top of the political order and back down again to – as the film portrays it – lonely and doddering irrelevance. Along the way we see her confrontation with powerful trade union strikers, forceful defense of free markets, persistence in the face of sexist derision from her political peers, triumph in the 1982 Falklands war, and Churchillian refusal to appease IRA terrorists (looking over that list makes me wish Ms. Thatcher had been our president for the last 3 years…).
The film features Streep, the most Oscar-nominated actress in history, in the role of a lifetime which will surely earn her another Oscar nod. It has been as polarizing as the extraordinary Iron Lady herself. Some critics have given it – or at least Ms. Streep – glowing reviews, while others, and some of Thatcher’s family and former friends and colleagues, have called it an unkind portrayal. One friend of the family said, prior to the film’s release, that Thatcher’s children were “appalled at what they have learnt about the film. They think it sounds like some left-wing fantasy.”
Norman Tebbit, an advisor who worked closely with Thatcher for eight years and who complains that the filmmakers didn’t reach out to him and others who really knew her, wrote in the UK’s Telegraph Online that “she was never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep.”
But some on the left feel the film does not go far enough in its unkindness toward England’s modern-day Boadicea. As Stuart Jeffries wrote in the British left-wing The Guardian online, her time was an “era of rage about what Thatcher, economy destroyer and warmonger, was doing to Britain… It will be a shame if ‘The Iron Lady’ overlooks that deep anger in favour of exclusive focus on Thatcher as a woman triumphing against the odds.”
And yet that is the focus the filmmakers gave it. Streep and British director Phyllida Lloyd, who have both stated that “The Iron Lady” is “King Lear for girls,” have made it less about Thatcher’s bold conservatism and very much about “a woman who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world.”
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