The Iron Lady is an upcoming biographical British film about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, portrayed by Meryl Streep. Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher, will be portrayed by Jim Broadbent, and Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, will be portrayed by Anthony Head.
Filming began in the UK on 31 January 2011, with the release scheduled for late 2011.
In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action.
Meryl Streep has said: "The prospect of exploring the swathe cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge. I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses – I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own."
Reaction The film's depiction of Thatcher has been criticised by her children, Mark and Carol Thatcher, who are reported to have said, "It sounds like some left-wing fantasy." Stuart Jeffries of the British newspaper The Guardian was cautiously optimistic about a non-British actor playing Thatcher, but expressed concern that its "narrative trajectory" could overlook "rage about what Thatcher, economy destroyer and warmonger, was doing to Britain" in favour of an "exclusive focus on Thatcher as a woman triumphing against the odds."
The Mail on Sunday reported in August 2011 that some viewers invited to a test screening of the unfinished film were concerned at the film’s depiction of Margaret Thatcher’s frail health in recent years.
Early reviews have praised Streep's portrayal. The Times Kevin Maher said: "Streep has found the woman within the caricature." David Gritten at The Telegraph commented; "Awards should be coming Streep's way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself." Xan Brooks of The Guardian said Streep's performance "is astonishing and all but flawless". Critic Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote: "Only an actress of Streep's stature could possibly capture Thatcher's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting." Richard Corliss of Time named Meryl Streep's performance one of the Top 10 Movie Performances of 2011.
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher Alexandra Roach as Margaret Thatcher (as a teenager) Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher Harry Lloyd as Young Denis Thatcher Olivia Colman as Carol Thatcher Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe Nicholas Farrell as Airey Neave Richard E. Grant as Michael Heseltine Paul Bentley as Douglas Hurd Robin Kermode as John Major John Sessions as Edward Heath Roger Allam as Gordon Reece Michael Pennington as Michael Foot Angus Wright as John Nott Julian Wadham as Francis Pym Reginald Green as Ronald Reagan
The Iron Lady: review It may be flawed, but there's genuine passion at the heart of The Iron Lady, writes David Gritten.
By David Gritten 15 Nov 2011 in The Telegraph
Two preconceptions about The Iron Lady, the long anticipated film about Margaret Thatcher’s life, are laid to rest on seeing it. The first was that it would be a hatchet job on our former prime minister. Not so: the film is relatively even-handed, and for long stretches sympathetic to its subject.
The second was that it was a travesty for Meryl Streep, the American actress, to be playing such a very English character. Well, those doubts have been assuaged too; Streep is splendid, giving a detailed, authoritative performance that goes way beyond accurate impersonation to evoke Thatcher’s spirit. One can think of a few talented British actresses who might have acquitted themselves well in the role, but it’s hard to imagine them doing it better than Streep.
Screenwriter Abi Morgan (TV’s The Hour) has fashioned a story rooted in the present, with Thatcher in her 80s, afflicted with memory loss, largely confined to her home and facing the task of clearing out the clothes of her husband Denis, who died eight years previously.
This device allows personal belongings to trigger memories of her past life, which is recreated in flashback. Cue a gallop through a life forged by her passion for politics — starting in her teens in her father’s grocery store in Grantham, where she is splendidly portrayed by Alexandra Roach, and through to her election as Britain’s first woman PM.
Events come and go in a blur — IRA attacks, the Falklands war, the Brighton bombing, the miners’ strike, the poll tax riots — before her leadership crumbles. These episodes are interrupted by continued returns to the present, as she shuffles around her bedroom.
This is a double-edged script device. On one hand, to portray Thatcher for so much of the film in a state of dementia feels skewed. Yet these scenes are by far the most affecting. In this state, her late husband appears to her, and they talk. (Denis is played by Jim Broadbent in a reading not far removed from Private Eye’s Dear Bill column as a convivial, golfing yarn-spinner) His presence is a trick of a failing mind, of course, but only in these present-day passages can Streep play the Iron Lady with any vulnerability. For much of her tenure in No10, there’s less of a character to mine: she’s mostly an implacable, relentless force of nature who brushes resistance aside. How people react to The Iron Lady depends on their attitude to her. David Cameron and Nick Clegg may squirm at a line in which she mocks coalitions. Trade unionists will find it too kindly. It may not find favour in Argentina. (“Sink it!” she snarls about the Belgrano.) Yet US Republicans, currently lacking a presidential candidate with a fraction of Thatcher’s conviction and confidence, will surely drool over it. This is a brave stab at a contemporary life, and even with its flaws it does Margaret Thatcher a certain grudging justice. Awards should be coming Streep’s way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.
Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher – what's not to like? The new film The Iron Lady looks to capture the image of a woman capable of deploying sexual allure politically
Stuart Jeffries guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 February 2011
The publicity still of Meryl Streep released to promote her forthcoming performance in the film The Iron Lady continues that counterintuitive narrative. Not Thatcher, Milk Snatcher. But Thatcher, Seducer. The image ideally realises what Tory makeover people wanted Thatcher to be – not just the hard-as-nails Conservative who destroyed a nation's industrial base, but a woman capable of deploying sexual allure politically.
Streep, I feel sure, will be able to modulate that psychic transition subtly if her career as an actor and the photo of her as Thatcher are anything to go by. It shows her sporting a perfect simulacrum of Thatcher's 1982 look – the honeyed ice cream swirl of a hairdo; the softly glowing yet indomitable pearls; the parted mouth and raised eyebrows that suggest seduction but threaten, in extremis, symbolic castration.
But enough of the mood round the cabinet table in 1981. Do we really need an American to play Maggie? Isn't there a law that says Dames Judi and Helen have first dibs? I think we shouldn't be angry at this piece of reverse cultural imperialism. We should rejoice, just as Maggie advised the press after those guano-covered South Atlantic islands were reconquered. Rejoice that, given the demographic parameters that all-but dictate one of the film's leading roles has to go Stateside if it's going to do boffo box office, Thatcher is being played by a great actor.
It could have been so much worse. Maggie could have been played by one those American actors whose English accent consists merely of deracinating it and denuding it of any character. I mean you, Gwyneth Paltrow. And you, Renee Zellweger.
Incidentally, Maggie's bibulous ankle bracelet, Denis, is to be played by Jim Broadbent, an actor whose CV consists of Streep-like virtuosic variety. Moreover it's one that shows he's well versed at playing slightly effaced men to more clamorous or dramatically interesting women. Think of him as Iris Murdoch's fraught husband, John Bayley, in Richard Eyre's film, or as the dad in Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet.
Like Stephen Frears's The Queen, The Iron Lady will focus on a helpfully self-containable narrative moment in order to provide a condensed character sketch of the eponymous (anti)hero. For The Queen it was the death of Diana and its consequences for HRH's popularity. Phyllida Lloyd's film will deal with the 17 days before the Falklands war at a time when Thatcher was deeply unpopular. In 1982, Britain was beset by racially inflected inner-city riots and soaring unemployment. Labour looked like an electoral dead cert. War changed Thatcher's fortunes decisively. Did she really need to send a taskforce to the other end of the world to defend British sovereignty? Were 1,000 war dead sacrificed to make her electable? We don't know yet if the film will tackle these questions.
Abi Morgan's script will certainly focus on Thatcher as (in the words of the press release) "a woman who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. The story concerns power and the price that is paid for power".
That's all fine, but that narrative trajectory risks skewing the story. This was not just a time of one woman's assault on a male bastion, but an era of rage about what Thatcher, economy destroyer and warmonger, was doing to Britain.
This rage was captured in two songs by Elvis Costello from that time – Shipbuilding ("Within weeks they'll be reopening the shipyards/And notifying the next of kin") and his pre-obit for Thatcher, Tramp the Dirt Down ("When they finally put you in the ground/I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down"). 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.
Doubtless, though, The Iron Lady will meditate on what Joseph Conrad wrote: "Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men." Of all the men Streep will have to deal with in The Iron Lady none has been more counter-intuitively cast than Anthony Head as Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe. For, while Head has a CV as the Gold Blend ad coffee-hottie and as Buffy the Vampire Slayer's bookish mentor, here he's slated to play a man so legendarily bumbling in debate and so curiously sexless that even Denis Healey could say that to be attacked by Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep.
But, again, Head has Stateside cachet, so he can play the economy-deflating dead sheep and still be recognised in multiplexes from Brooklyn to Bakersfield. These considerations are important if modern British history is to do good global box office. The rest of the casting is surely more convincing: heroically self-regarding Richard E Grant is surely perfectly cast as the preening Michael Heseltine; the great Shakespearean actor Michael Pennington as Labour leader Michael Foot should be a delight.
Lloyd has only previously directed one film, Mamma Mia! (their exclamation mark, not mine) an adaptation of the West End musical of Abba hits which she also directed. That's some pedigree, whatever you thought of it, Mamma Mia! is the biggest grossing British film of all time. But is Lloyd right to helm a project of somewhat greater political import?
Lloyd's theatrical CV makes a strong argument for the defence. She's directed Medea, The Duchess of Malfi, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Mary Stuart and Britten's opera about Elizabeth I, Gloriana, not just a wish-fulfilment movie about a woman finding her mojo on a Greek island (though clearly that's an important story that deserves telling).
Lloyd has another achievement. She inveigled Meryl Streep to do the splits on Mamma Mia!. When I interviewed Streep in 2008, I asked if Lloyd had used a body double: "Of course! They grafted my face on to Olga Korbut's body." She was being sarcastic. Note to younger readers: Korbut was the Olympic gold-winning Soviet gymnast of the early 1970s; Streep is now 61.
What was striking about Mamma Mia! was how Streep gave the non-American actors – Julie Walters and Pierce Brosnan especially – a lesson in non-histrionic acting. She conferred on her role a dignity it scarcely deserved, miraculously stopping the movie collapsing into mere camp. That will stand her in good stead with The Iron Lady, which is currently being filmed and has no release date yet.
But is there any specific role from her marvellous roster of performances that suggests Streep has what it takes to play the British prime minister? After all, she's played Holocaust victim, nuclear whistleblower, scary magazine editor and mother whose child may or may not have been abducted by a dingo.
Arguably, there is one role that makes her a perfect fit. That was her performance as Thatcherite cooking guru Julia Child in 2009's Julie and Julia. Essentially, Streep has already played a woman who was both the US equivalent of Fanny Cradock and baking's answer to Thatcher. She has what it takes.
What next for her after The Iron Lady? The Michelle Obama Story, obviously. A little work on the muscle tone and she'd be set. I'm kidding: Meryl, don't do it.