Margaret Thatcher on screen: Meryl Streep and more

April 08, 2013|By Mark Olsen

Americans may be most familiar with Margaret Thatcher through her friendship with Ronald Reagan and the more recent Oscar-winning portrait of her by Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady,” but the former British prime minister was a frequent subject of dramatic interpretation at home. Thatcher passed away Monday at age 87, and a scan of her depiction in TV programs, film and onstage (to say nothing of song), shows just how deeply polarizing a figure she could be.

“The Iron Lady,” the 2011 film written by Abi Morgan and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, was a sympathetic portrait that found the aging Thatcher skipping through memories of her life as she is overcome with dementia. The film was criticized by some for its de-politicized view of Thatcher.

"The most transgressive thing we have done in this film is to imagine Margaret Thatcher -- who is characterized in many quarters as a monster, a person who has trampled all that was great in Britain -- to imagine her as human," Streep said in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "That's the biggest transgression in our film, is to imagine her 360 [degrees], and to me that's just really interesting that that's a crime. But it's the artist's job to go there."

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The 2000 film “Billy Elliot” was set during the 1980s miners’ strike that was among the most controversial situations the conservative Thatcher faced as prime minister. The musical stage version of the story that came after featured a song written by Elton John titled “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,” which included the lyric “We all celebrate today ’cause it’s one day closer to your death.”

Andrea Riseborough played young Thatcher in the 2008 TV movie “Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley,” which  covered her early years in politics. Lindsay Duncan played Thatcher in the 2009 TV drama “Margaret.” In another 2009 TV drama, “The Queen” (not to be confused with the 2006 Helen Mirren-starring film “The Queen”), Thatcher was played by Lesley Manville.

Thatcher appeared as a character in the 1981 James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only,” played by the actress Janet Brown.

The long-running British satirical television puppet show “Spitting Image” made Thatcher a frequent target of its barbs.

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Numerous films also explored Thatcher’s Britain without directly including her as a character, such as Mike Leigh’s 1988 film “High Hopes,” of which critic Jay Carr once wrote in the Boston Globe:  "Leigh is an angry, humane battler trying to keep working-class hopes and ideals alive in what he sees as an increasingly selfish and soul-crushing Thatcherian England." 

A new documentary by filmmaker Ken Loach, “The Spirit of ’45,” draws a direct line from Thatcher’s economic policies to current unemployment. Throughout the 1980s, Loach made a series of documentaries severely critical of Thatcher.

Thatcher is a supporting character in the new West End play "The Audience," by Peter Morgan, and starring Mirren as Elizabeth II. The former prime minister is played by actress Haydn Gwynne. The play depicts the British monarch holding audiences with various prime ministers throughout her reign. 

The drama is running at London's Gielgud Theatre and will be broadcast to cinemas around the world starting June 13.


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Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus

Staff writer David Ng contributed to this report


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