'Iron Lady': Meryl Streep's Thatcher biopic draws ire in Britain
If controversy equals box office, then "The Iron Lady," Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher biopic, is off to a promising start across the pond. According to a report in the British newspaper the Daily Mail, friends of Thatcher who attended an early screening of the film Saturday were outraged by its portrayal of their former prime minister as power-hungry leading up to and during her administration in the 1980s and conflicted and confused in her senescence.
"I didn’t come here to see a film about granny going mad," one anonymous viewer said of the movie, which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia") and stars Streep as the Conservative leader and Jim Broadbent as her husband, Denis Thatcher.
According to the report, "The Iron Lady" contains scenes of Thatcher suffering nightmares over some of the major victories of her tenure -- including the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike that lead to a weakened labor movement in Britain and the 1982 Falklands War -- and sacrificing family for ambition.
Viewers took particular offense at the depiction of the Thatcher marriage, including a scene in which a pink-turbaned Denis appears in a dream sequence to rail at his wife for her selfishness.
Conservative MP Conor Burns told the paper: "Any portrayal of Margaret Thatcher that does not show her as one of the titans of British politics in the 20th Century will be a travesty. The idea that Denis would ever have been cruel to her is twisted and untrue. They were devoted."
Another British paper, the Telegraph, wrote that Prime Minister David Cameron may come to regret allowing Streep to sit in a VIP area and observe the British House of Commons in preparation for her role in the "disgraceful film."
Thatcher is now 85 and in frail health but as potent a symbol as ever to conservatives in both the U.S. and her homeland.
The British-French film company Pathé, which helped finance "The Iron Lady" and which hosted Saturday’s screening, offered its first hint that this would be no political hagiography of Thatcher with the release of a still photo in February. In that picture, Streep wears Thatcher’s characteristic pearls and stiff bouffant, along with a vaguely startled look.
"The prospect of exploring the swath cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge," Streep said in a statement when the photo was released. "I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervor and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses -- I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own."
In July, Pathé pieced out another nugget -- a teaser trailer that played off Thatcher’s status as a somewhat unlikely feminist figure. "I may be persuaded to lose the hat," she tells two political strategists in the teaser. "The pearls, however, are absolutely non-negotiable.”
The Weinstein Co. will release "The Iron Lady" in U.S. theaters Dec. 16.
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher. Credit: Alex Bailey / From Pathé Productions Ltd.