Friday, January 13, 2012

In 'The Iron Lady,' a Great Actress and a Grand Dame

Meryl Streep as UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Photo by Alex Bailey, Courtesy of Pathe Productions Ltd.

WHAT is it about Meryl Streep and her extraordinary ability to portray fascinating women with pinpoint accuracy.

The list is impressive: Karen Blixen (“Out of Africa”), Vogue editor Anna Wintour (“The Devil Wears Prada”), Top Chef Julia Child (“Julia & Julia”). And now, Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher.

“The Iron Lady” chronicles the life of MT, particularly her near-meteoric rise and reign as the first and so far the only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The film premieres in U.S. theaters today.

MS is often heralded as the greatest U.S. actress of all time. Perhaps she has garnered such praise because she effortless owns a character mind, body and soul. If she is the finest actress this young country has produced to date, that is indeed impressive. Lesser greats would include Joan Crawford, Bette Davis (MS’ film idol), Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.

Without doubt, in “The Iron Lady” MS is MT. Makeup notwithstanding, she bears a striking resemblance to this shopkeeper’s daughter. Her moniker, “woman of a thousand accents,” serves her well in this role, too. She nails MT’s speech patterns with barely a syllable out of place. Her performance goes beyond diction, however, to facial ticks, body language and the rhythm of her pantherlike movements. Watching MS do MT is like watching the lady herself whose legendary will was as flinty as they come, hence her moniker. (See trailers at: and

“The Iron Lady” has been eagerly anticipated – MT, though now in her 80s and sickly remains a controversial figure more loathed than loved – and many thought MS would knock this one out of the park. It seems she has, earning a nod in the best actress category on just about every leading critics list. On Monday, she won the New York Film Critics Circle Awards prize for best actress.

“The Iron Lady” had a limited release in December to qualify for Academy Award consideration. The only surprise would be if MS’ name isn’t listed in the best actress category. It would represent her 17th nomination, another reason she is considered the nation’s finest actress. Her closest competition is KH (12). If MS wins it would be her third. KH has four and the designation as the most Oscar-decorated actress. As incredible as it may seem, MS last took home the statuette nearly 20 years ago, in 1982 for “Sophie’s Choice.”

Awards aside, the actress gives another stellar performance in “The Iron Lady” and has been the subject of most of the buzz. It takes a village, though, doesn't it? She has strong support, particularly from Jim Broadbent as the older Denis Thatcher, MT’s husband and campaign contributor.

"The Iron Lady” is rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity.

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