Margaret Thatcher, the longest reigning British Prime Minister of the 20th Century, remains a polarizing figure even though she hasn’t held office since 1990.
She’s a hero to some: Gloucester City Council leader Paul James calls her “the best prime minister there’s been.” But a villain to others: “She made all manner of cuts society is still recovering from,” says Steve Lydon, branch secretary of Stroud Labour Party.
She is now the subject of The Iron Lady — a nickname Thatcher picked up from Soviet newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda — a biography starring Meryl Streep, written by Shame playwright Abi Morgan.
The film has already ruffled the feathers of Thatcher devotees. Tim Bell, a longtime associate of the former PM, called the movie a “non-event” and Tory loyalist Norman Tebbit commented that Thatcher was “never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep.”
“It’s not a documentary, it’s not a social history, it’s a drama,” says Morgan on the controversy.
“I think if you see yourself as an artist, part of being an artist is to comment on your times. I feel it is a comment but it is a creative comment.
“I hope it’s a humane and dignified portrayal. I think anybody can see it’s not an attempt to sabotage.
“I feel it is as much the study of power, the study of loss and the study of the isolation of office and [because] Margaret Thatcher is an icon, a recognizable public figure, she was a way to filter those very powerful themes.”
Morgan says those “themes and the ideas and the human story are bigger than the individual.”
As written, the character of Thatcher is complex. The film first shows her long after her glory days and works backwards through her career highlights.
Meryl Streep plays her in various stages of her career.
“She is absolutely dream casting,” says Morgan.
“There are, obviously, amazing British actors and one would have been lucky to work with any of them, but what was exciting to me about working with Meryl is that she’s a complete shape shifter.
“I think she is an absolutely fascinating actress and I felt incredibly reassured when I learned Meryl was going to play the part because I knew she would imbue that character with such humanity and such complexity.
“She has such integrity, she just elevates the work.”