"The Iron Lady", a new biopic in which Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, whisks viewers back to the days when Thatcher was the Western world's first female leader and possibly Britain's most divisive prime minister.
AFP - The bouffant hair is hidden under a headscarf, the once erect figure is bowed with age, but when she questions the shopkeeper about the high cost of milk, the schoolma'am voice is unmistakeable.
Margaret Thatcher, as played by Meryl Streep in the opening scenes of new biopic "The Iron Lady", is a subdued version of the powerful woman she once was, just as the real 86-year-old is now frail and suffering from dementia.
But while the film takes the current day Maggie as a starting point, flashes of memory whisk viewers back to the days when she was the Western world's first female leader and possibly Britain's most divisive prime minister.
Director Phyllida Lloyd -- the woman behind "Mamma Mia!" -- says the film is not intended to be political, describing it as "almost Shakespearean; the story of a great leader who is both tremendous and flawed in all kinds of ways".
Streep, 62, has admitted that she knew little of Thatcher's policies before taking the role but said she saw the film as less about politics and more about "what was the cost of her political decisions on her as a human being".
As a result "The Iron Lady" -- the name given to Thatcher by the Soviets -- is a story of ambition; power won and power lost; but also of love, centred around her relationship with her husband Denis, who died in 2003.
The film is set in the present day as Thatcher clears out her late husband's clothes. She chats companionably with his ghost, played by Jim Broadbent, as she tries to come to terms with his loss.
As they talk, she falls back into recollections of her past, from her election to parliament in 1959 and holidays with her twins, to her decision to lead the Conservative party and her election as premier in 1979.
The film recreates her battles against the 'wets' she despised on her own side and the opposition Labour party, and her victory speech in the House of Commons following the Falklands War in 1982.
It also uses archive footage of riots against her reforms, as well as the bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on the hotel where she was staying at the Conservative conference in 1984, which killed five people.
Although the film claims to be non-judgmental, the elderly, heartbroken Thatcher inevitably invites sympathy, while at the same time a cabinet meeting shortly before she resigns in 1990 shows her so uncompromising as to be almost mad.
Set against a backdrop of a new Conservative government forcing through public spending cuts as Thatcher did in the 1980s as part of her free-market reforms, the film will also be controversial.
The decision to cast an American in the role has already caused a stir, but Lloyd defends it as a way of emphasising Thatcher's outsider status: she was a woman and despite her education at Oxford university, her father was only a grocer.
Streep has already won plaudits for her performance, picking up the New York Critics' Circle award last month and a Golden Globe nomination this week, putting her in line to win the third Oscar of her career.
Charles Moore, who is writing Thatcher's authorised biography, said Streep's portrayal was "uncannily brilliant", capturing the former premier's presence, her isolation as a woman in power, her ambition -- and what it cost her.
"She captures the intense, uneasy, passionate woman rising to greatness, the Gloriana figure at the height of her power, and the rather touching old lady known to her intimates as 'Lady T'," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
The only thing he complains about is Streep's walk, which he says fails to capture what has been described as Thatcher's "dignified scuttle".
He welcomed the film as a chance to move beyond the for and against argument that has dominated the last three decades, saying: "It serves the future of Margaret Thatcher well -- much better, perhaps, than it intended."
However, Norman Tebbit, a Conservative who served in Thatcher's government from 1979 to 1987, condemned the "half-hysterical, over-emotional" woman portrayed by Streep, saying it didn't reflect the leader he knew.
Tim Bell, Thatcher's former advisor for her three election victories, meanwhile said he wouldn't bother with the film at all, explaining: "I saw the real thing -- what's the point of reading the book if you were there?"
"The Iron Lady" opens in Australia and New Zealand on December 26, before going on worldwide release.
Date created : 2011-12-26