Meryl Streep: Thatcher would be appalled by 'hijacking of conservatism'
"I think she’d be appalled by the hijacking of conservatism in this country," Streep said in an interview appearing in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. "And yet she definitely was a fiscal conservative. She’s a brand of Republican that doesn’t exist anymore, is not allowed to exist."
"The Iron Lady," which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd from a partially fictional script by Abi Morgan, is set in the present day, in which Thatcher, 86, has sustained a series of strokes and is suffering from dementia. As she's sorting the belongings of her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), Thatcher begins to recollect key moments from her 1980s political tenure -- moments that bear a remarkable resemblance to modern times, including labor disputes, terror attacks and economic uncertainty. Thatcher's close alliance with Ronald Reagan and her privatizing of public utilities in England are also covered.
In researching the film, Streep said she learned about Thatcher from personal interviews with many of the former prime minister's colleagues, and found her to be far less conservative than her modern American counterparts on issues such as abortion, gay rights, healthcare and climate change.
"Americans think of conservatives in a completely different way," Streep said. "We think of conservatives as people who debunk the science on global warming, where Margaret Thatcher was an early proponent of this idea. She didn’t dismantle the national healthcare, she realized that was a right you couldn’t take away from people. She was pro-choice. On one of our trips to Washington I spoke with someone who had been in the room when she took Vice President Quayle and President Bush to task vehemently to not use [abortion] as a political football, that it was unconscionable to do that. Today she would be drummed out of the American conservative party just for that. There were people who were engaged in homosexual scandals in her cabinet who were close to her and she said, 'You stand by me all day today. That’s how we’ll handle this.'"
For more from Streep on Thatcher, and women's roles in politics and Hollywood, see this story in Sunday's newspaper.
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey, Pathe Productions /The Weinstein Co.