Considering the historical and controversial stature of Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year run as the U.K.’s prime minister, it’s surprising there hasn’t been a major motion picture about her until now. But director Phyllida Lloyd is happy to get there first. Choosing to focus on the Thatcher of today, with her political career shown in flashback, Lloyd offers a softer, more sympathetic depiction of a woman still reviled by many.

Why do you think there hasn’t been a film exclusively about Thatcher until now?

It is surprising. This movie’s been a long time in development, and it began as a film about the Falklands War, and then [screenwriter] Abi [Morgan] came onboard and dropped this bombshell and said, “What about setting it in the present?” And I think from that moment everything flowed. I don’t know why there hasn’t been, to be honest.

Was the focus on her as an older woman part of an attempt to make her more sympathetic, since there is still so much animosity toward her?

In England, she’s still one of the most divisive characters, and the debate about her policies and her legacy is really being largely stuck. There’s one way of looking at her where she is the monster she-devil who ruined the lives of millions, and on the other hand she is Saint Margaret who rescued Britain from its post-war decline and put us back on the world stage. And there’s very little you can find in between those two positions. What we wanted to do was go, “OK, that’s all that. Let’s just turn this thing upside down and look at it from a completely different point of view.” We talked about it very much as a sort of King Lear for girls. It was a story of a mighty leader who was brought down partly by the enemy within and also by their own kind of hubris.

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