How to portray the most hated woman in history?
22 Nov 2011
Meryl Streep gives a jaw-dropping performance in The Iron Lady, that plays like a magnificent, modern opera on Margaret Thatcher. Then again, I might not be objective after getting hugged by the actress when meeting her in New York.
”She is supposed to be really nice,” I tell the German journalist, who worries.
A small group of us are sipping coffee in a breathtaking suite at Robert De Niro’s new hotel on Greenwich Street, which is so understated my Belgian colleague walked right by on her way.
”Yes, I know,” he returns: ”I’ve met her ten or eleven times before.”
”Oh, okay,” I reply with an embarassed, small laugh, suited for someone, who has met her zero times before. Meryl Streep is the celebrity in question, and after having seen her in The Iron Lady I am even more excited about the interview.
An old lady is pushed around when shopping for milk, and so the film creates an immediate connection with its 86 year old protagonist, who is struggling to deal with the loss of her husband and of the power she had in her 11 years as prime minister.
On the set Streep scared the crew, who thought the actual Thatcher had shown up to tell them off. She not only looks like her. Like magic, Streep transforms herself into Thatcher, still an icon, hated for making the poor poorer and the rich richer, and admired for ”putting the great back into Great Britain”.
Surprised by Thatcher
”What kind of woman could stand being so hated for so many years, for decades? That was fascinating to me,” says Meryl Streep, who shows no diva-like tantrums.
She purses her lips, when she listens, tosses her hair, when she laughs.
”When she was elected, I had just had my first baby, and I wasn’t interested in her. She seemed like another species. The bobbed hair and always the wrong clothes. She was a subject of ridicule in the press. I was surprised to learn that she was prochoice, she was an early proponent of global warming, and unlike American conservatives she did not dream of dismissing the national health system. Well, she might have dreamed of it,” she adds.
Meryl Streep and The Iron Lady draw up a woman with strong convictions, to whom the use of power is a responsibility one must be brave to exercise, even when making unpopular choices. Thereby leaving it up to us to judge those choices for ourselves.
An operatic cinematic style has Thatcher entering Downing Street 10 just as a primadonna takes the stage. And often in flashbacks to her governing years, the camera shoots from above, in the way of Busby Berkeley’s musicals. Scenes from her life in parliament are stylishly composed in a bluish color palette. Mrs. Thatcher’s wardrobe, of course, only has shades of blue.
The Iron Lady plays out like a tragicomic, modern opera and has Thatcher’s outfit echo Queen Elizabeth the First when showing her sacrifices in return for power. By way of mise-en-scene the film contrasts Thatcher’s hyperbolic politics with her quiet private quarters.
Director Phyllida Lloyd’s portrait of Margaret Thatcher seems to divide our group of journalists in New York. Yet the vote for Meryl Streep at the upcoming Oscars is unanimous.
When the publicist pops her head in with a regretful smile, I quickly slide over to Meryl Streep and thank her for the many great experiences, she has given me.
”Thank you so much!” she exclaims surprised and takes my breath away. Literally, because she squeezes me into a big, happy hug. I don’t really mind.