For every movie, documentary and foreign film buff, the start of the new year stands as a reminder that the Academy Awards are right around the corner. With award nominees revealed each January, it’s no surprise that award-winning actress Meryl Streep is a leading contender for the Best Actress category for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
Her commitment to the art of acting and her ability to completely transform into a wide variety of characters has guaranteed her a near-annual nomination since 1978. If awarded, this would be the first Oscar she takes home since her leading role in “Sophie’s Choice” in 1982.
Holding the most Oscar nominations of any actress in history, sixteen as of this year, Streep’s performance as the former British prime minister is one of conviction, specificity and absolute physical transformation. After 30 years since she last won the award, will this be the role that wins her the next Oscar?
Streep has been known to effectively become her characters, ranging from the rambunctious, jolly and high-pitched French chef Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” (2009), to the icy, fiercely fashionable and quick-witted editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006); from a Catholic nun with a grievance against a priest (“Doubt”), to a modern version of Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (“The Hours”).
Streep’s extensive training in her art is evident through the dramatic changes she makes for each individual role. Though some of her characters may seem out of the ordinary at face value, it is through her moment-to-moment characterizations, mannerisms and full-embodied physicality that she realizes a humanistic performance.
The film, shown through the lens of an elderly and nostalgic Margaret Thatcher, tells the story of her rise and fall in British parliament through a series of flashbacks as she packs away her late husband’s belongings. Struggling with early signs of dementia, each object she stores sparks a memory from different moments in her life, and Streep’s portrayal of Thatcher bounces between the former prime minister’s past and present life.
Margaret Thatcher, the first female British prime minister with the longest-serving term of the 20th century, was widely known for her strict conservative policies, compelling speeches and harsh rhetoric against the Soviet Union. It is through her convictions, persistence in creating change and push for a self-sufficient lifestyle that the prime minister earned the nickname “the Iron Lady.” Although prosthetics and extensive film makeup were used to assist her transformation into an older Thatcher, Streep’s physicality, subtle character choices and commitment to Thatcher’s driven, passionate personality separate her from other nominees.
Written as a sympathetic portrayal of a prime minister who was not always well-liked by the public, the film has garnered mixed reviews. Many critics said the film lacks the range to portray Thatcher’s story beyond the drama and pathos of her personal life, which limited the film. Despite the harsh criticism surrounding the film, Streep is praised in reviews for her brilliance as an actress and the totality of her transformation. Streep’s portrayal is so spot-on that comparing video clips of Margaret Thatcher to the film render the two nearly indistinguishable.
This type of transformative role is not an unusual contender for the Oscar. Actresses playing famous women throughout history are commonly seen in the Best Actress category. Other actresses nominated for historical portrayls include Salma Hayek as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in “Frida”, Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” and Charlize Theron as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Although the majority of these women undertake complete transformations to do justice to their real-life characters, Streep’s Margaret Thatcher has authenticity that sets a new bar.
Already having won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for “The Iron Lady,” as well as holding a nomination in the same category for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Streep is a critic favorite for the Oscar, and it seems that an Oscar win is almost inevitable — after all, 16th time’s the charm.