Who Is Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher For, Exactly?

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An international trailer for the upcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady has been released, and it presents itself as a stirring King's Speech (meets Evita?) style drama about a populist hero overcoming adversity. Wait. Are we talking about the same Margaret Thatcher here?

Meaning, isn't it strange that a bunch of showbiz liberals -- Meryl Streep, director Phyllida Lloyd, presumably pretty much everyone else -- have gone and made a straightforward rabble-rouser about the Lady Reagan? Obviously we are basing this read of the film pretty much solely on this brief clip, except look! The Conservative-approved tabloid The Daily Mail is totally in the tank for the film, even getting quotes from Streep about what a remarkable woman Thatcher is. So this is a positive film, and probably not one that ends with lingering shots of ravaged council estates. Kinda strange, huh? And it makes us wonder just who this movie is chiefly for.

If Ronald Reagan is many middle-aged conservatives' dad, then Margaret Thatcher is their feisty old aunt who told them to stand up straight. So a movie that glamorizes her rise to power and subsequent gutting of social programs and routing of unions, helping to create a substantial amount of very poor people, will be very exciting for them. It might also go some distancae toward convincing some that film isn't an entirely left-biased industry. If a Vassar and Yale-educated, New York-trained actress like Meryl Streep can find inspiration in Maggie and portray her in a movie with dignity and without any hint of a sneer, then maybe it's not so bad after all! If this movie is as rah-rah as it seems, this is going to be quite exciting for a particular groups of needy, all-the-cool-people-hate-us right wingers. Of course, there is substantially nothing cool about Margaret Thatcher, but Meryl Streep is still popular these days! So there, everyone else. Finally the movies take their side.

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For those obsessed with the Oscar race, like Academy members, the politics of the film don't really matter all that much. Sure liberal politics don't hurt -- look at all the nominations that Brokeback Mountain got (if you can call a movie that depicts a deep, tragic love with dignity "liberal," which you depressingly can these days) -- but really, in this movie's case especially, if there's a powerhouse like Meryl Streep involved and there are British accents and big speeches and all that, whether or not Margaret Thatcher was some kind of Ayn Randian bootstrapper doesn't really matter. The Iron Lady hits on all the prestige cylinders, so it's really just another horse in the race for awards junkies. Streep will get a nomination, maybe her first win in practically 30 years, and that's all that matters here. No one cared much about Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson's unfortunate Nazi-sympathizing in The King's Speech, so why would they care about Thatcher? There are more important things at stake! Like Best Makeup awards.

And then there are the folks who, uh, y'know looove them some Meryl Streep, but have seen Billy Elliot and have read The Line of Beauty and so have some vague-ish idea of Thatcher as a nightmare totem of the dark and difficult 1980s, and are thus conflicted. Do we (yes, we are among them) try to enjoy the movie on its merits, ignoring the fact that the subject being celebrated is, we're pretty sure, contemporary British history's greatest monster? Yes, that is probably what will happen, the ignoring, because who can resist La Streep, but we're not going to be happy about it. And who knows, maybe the movie will surprise us and be far more critical than we expect. But this preview and that Daily Mail item give us pause. It's Margaret Thatcher! The bad lady from that ballet movie! Meryl nooo!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.