Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Streep's 'Iron Lady' Golden; Oscar Bound?
It’s been thirty years, but Meryl Streep may have to make room for that elusive third Oscar. With Tuesday’s announcement of the Academy Award nominations, the heralded actress’ brilliant portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” (already a Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice winner) is the front runner for the coveted statuette. But with the most impressive roster of Best Actress nominees in recent years, her win is not a slam dunk. Streep’s stiffest rival will likely be her “Doubt” co-star Viola Davis who delivered a heartachingly beautiful performance in the far more popular film “The Help.” And Davis–who was nominated as Supporting Actress for her role in “Doubt” ( and received a Golden Globe shout-out from Streep) has yet to score Oscar gold, something the Academy likes to spread around. An unlikely groundswell of support could also garner Glenn Close her first Oscar for the poignant, but little seen “Albert Nobbs,” a film the actress has been trying to get made for over fifteen years.
Check out the Oscar site for a complete list of nominations. I’ll have more on surprises and snubs in all the categories, as well as predictions, later.
But for now, let’s delve into “The Iron Lady,” and the case for Streep. Phyllida Lloyd’s film is more a character study ( and a complex and compassionate one) than a history lesson. Lloyd aims for the personal over the political. And she’s received some flack for that, mostly from British critics and historians.
Some are perturbed by the release itself. Unlike many biopics, the subject is still alive. At 86, Baroness Thatcher, the woman once simultaneously reviled and revered, for her decades’ long steely leadership, has become a recluse, isolated by growing dementia. The current British Prime Minister David Cameron recently denounced the timing of the film, saying it was “insensitive” and could have waited “for another day.”
But for those of us interested in a powerful and elegant character portrait, there is little to disappoint. And the British film community is certainly forgiving; she just won the British Academy Award. And for good reason. Streep conquers the role of Thatcher, capturing her nuances with the actress’s uncanny, signature perfection. She doesn’t engage in a mere impersonation, but embodies Thatcher’s very essence. It’s not just the coiffed hair, the carriage and the characteristic tone of voice. It’s the the agility Streep demonstrates as she seamlessly dips in and out Thatcher’s razor-sharp persona to an ailing, aged woman recounting her hey day that is so astounding and mesmerizing.
The film opens with Thatcher as an octogenarian, her once “blotting paper memory,” evaporating in the wake of of a series of strokes. She’s seen cracking an egg for her husband, Denis who has died, but still appears, engaging in very lively discussions.
Streep’s Thatcher slips in and out of consequential scenes, hinting at her remarkable rise to glory, but not dwelling on it.Still, there is enough politics to put Thatcher’s life in context and give viewers unfamiliar with her impressive tenure ( 1979-1990; the longest in modern history) more than enough political substance to hold onto. The war over the Falkland Islands forms the crux of her rise to success, as Thatcher fiercely stands up to Parliament’s “Old Boy’s Club.” We also see her political kinship with President Reagan and witness her downfall as the bitter battle with the unions propels her anguished exit from No. 10 Downing Street.
At heart, though, Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” strives to unveil the woman behind the steely iron facade.
As dementia begins to set in, we are given glimpses into Thatcher’s relationship with her husband, played by the wonderful Jim Broadbent ( who handled similar duty opposite Judi Dench in the lovely Iris Murdoch bio-pic “Iris“)and her children, Carol (Olivia Colman), who helps care for her, and Mark, who lives in South Africa and whom the audience never sees.
As she goes about packing up Denis’ belongings for charity, the elderly former Tory leader is swept back to the time when she was a young woman – the daughter of a grocer, and an ambitious Oxford grad with evolving political aspirations. We also get charming peaks at her courtship with young Denis Thatcher and their marriage during tumultuous times.
I know purists have quibbles with the timing, accuracy, even the style. But, Lloyd has turned out an artful and entertaining movie, one that offers great personal insight into a fascinating woman. And while I can’t guarantee Streep will take home her first Oscar since the “Sophie’s Choice” win in 1982, her fierce and nuanced performance is bound to get your vote.
The 84 annual Academy Awards will air live on ABC on Sunday, February 26.
Drive safe. Play nice. pass the popcorn.