The Iron Lady (film)

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The Iron Lady
Iron lady film poster.jpg
British theatrical release poster
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Produced by Damian Jones
Written by Abi Morgan
Starring Meryl Streep
Jim Broadbent
Olivia Colman
Anthony Head
Richard E. Grant
Music by Thomas Newman [1]
Cinematography Elliot Davis
Edited by Justine Wright
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
(United Kingdom)
The Weinstein Company (United States)
Icon Productions (Australia)
Release date
  • 26 December 2011 (2011-12-26)(Australia, New Zealand)
  • 6 January 2012 (2012-01-06)(United Kingdom)
Running time
104 minutes [2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£8.2 million ($10.6 million) [3]
Box office$115 million [4]

The Iron Lady is a 2011 British-French biographical drama film based on the life and career of Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013), a British stateswoman and politician who was the first ever female and longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of the 20th century. [5] The film was directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Thatcher is portrayed primarily by Meryl Streep, [6] and, in her formative and early political years, by Alexandra Roach. Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher (1915–2003), is portrayed by Jim Broadbent, and by Harry Lloyd as the younger Denis. Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, is portrayed by Anthony Head. [7]

Biographical film Film genre

A biographical film, or biopic, is a film that dramatizes the life of a non-fictional or historically-based person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character's real name is used. They differ from films "based on a true story" or "historical drama films" in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a single person's life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.

Margaret Thatcher former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was a British stateswoman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. A Soviet journalist dubbed her "The 'Iron Lady'", a nickname that became associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style. As Prime Minister, she implemented policies known as Thatcherism.

A public figure is a person, such as a politician, celebrity, social media personality, or business leader, who has a certain social position within a certain scope and a significant influence and so is often widely concerned by the public, can benefit enormously from society, and is closely related to public interests in society.


While the film was met with mixed reviews, Streep's performance was widely acclaimed, and considered to be one of the greatest of her career. She received her 17th Oscar nomination for her portrayal and ultimately won the award for the third time, 29 years after her second Oscars' win. She also earned her third Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama award (her eighth Golden Globe Award win overall), and her second BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and the BAFTA Award for Best Makeup and Hair.

BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role British film award for actresses

Best Actress in a Leading Role is a British Academy Film Award presented annually by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding leading performance in a film.

The Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling is the Academy Award given to the best achievement in makeup and hairstyling for film. Traditionally, three films have been nominated each year with exceptions in the early 1980s and 2002 when there were only two nominees; in 1999, when there were four nominees. Beginning with the 92nd Academy Awards, five films will be nominated.

The film was loosely based on John Campbell's biography The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer's Daughter to Prime Minister. [8]


In flashbacks, the audience is shown a young Margaret Roberts working at the family tobacconist's shop in Grantham, listening to the political speeches of her father, whom she idolised  it is also hinted that she had a poor relationship with her mother, a housewife  and announcing that she has won a place at Somerville College, Oxford. She remembers her struggle, as a young lower-middle class woman, to break into a snobbish male-dominated Conservative Party and find a seat in the House of Commons, along with businessman Denis Thatcher's marriage proposal to her. Her struggles to fit in as a "Lady Member" of the House, and as Education Secretary in Edward Heath's Cabinet are also shown, as are her friendship with Airey Neave, her decision to stand for Leader of the Conservative Party and eventual victory, and her voice coaching and image change.

Grantham Market town in Lincolnshire, England

Grantham is an English town in the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. It straddles the London–Edinburgh East Coast Main Line and the River Witham and is bounded to the west by the A1 north–south trunk road. Grantham lies about 23 miles (37 km) south of the county town, Lincoln and about 22 miles (35 km) east of Nottingham. The population in 2016 was put at 44,580. Grantham was the birthplace of the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Isaac Newton was educated at its King's School. Thomas Paine worked in the town as an excise officer in the 1790s. Grantham-born Edith Smith became the United Kingdom's first female police officer in 1914. The town produced the first running diesel engine in 1892 and the UK's first tractor in 1896.

Somerville College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Somerville College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Founded in 1879 as Somerville Hall, it was one of the first two women's colleges in Oxford, and its alumnae, such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Dorothy Hodgkin, Iris Murdoch, Vera Brittain, Cornelia Sorabji, Dorothy L. Sayers and many activists, have played a major role in feminism. Today, around 50 per cent of the students are male.

Conservative Party (UK) Political party in the United Kingdom

The Conservative Party, officially the Conservative and Unionist Party, sometimes informally called the Tories, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom. The governing party since 2010, it is the largest in the House of Commons, with 312 Members of Parliament, and also has 249 members of the House of Lords, 4 members of the European Parliament, 31 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 11 members of the Welsh Assembly, eight members of the London Assembly and 8,916 local councillors.

Further flashbacks examine historical events during her time as Prime Minister, after winning the 1979 general election, including the rising unemployment related to her monetarist policies and the tight 1981 budget (over the misgivings of "wet" members of her Cabinet – Ian Gilmour, Francis Pym, Michael Heseltine, and Jim Prior), the 1981 Brixton riot, the 1984–1985 UK miners' strike, and the bombing in Brighton of the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference, when she and her husband were almost killed. We also see (slightly out of chronological sequence) her decision to retake the Falkland Islands following the islands' invasion by Argentina in 1982, the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano and Britain's subsequent victory in the Falklands War, her friendship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and emergence as a world figure, and the economic boom of the late 1980s.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Head of UK Government

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, until 1801 known as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016. May resigned as Conservative Party leader on 7 June 2019, remaining as Prime Minister until a new Prime Minister is appointed.

1979 United Kingdom general election election for members of the British House of Commons

The 1979 United Kingdom general election was held on 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, ousted the incumbent Labour government of James Callaghan with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats. The election was the first of four consecutive election victories for the Conservative Party, and Thatcher became the United Kingdom's and Europe's first elected female head of government.

Ian Gilmour, Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar British politician

Ian Hedworth John Little Gilmour, Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar, was a Conservative politician in the United Kingdom. He was styled Sir Ian Gilmour, 3rd Baronet from 1977, having succeeded to his father's baronetcy, until he became a life peer in 1992. He served as Secretary of State for Defence in 1974, in the government of Edward Heath. He also served in the government of Margaret Thatcher, as Lord Privy Seal from 1979 to 1981.

By 1990, Thatcher is shown as an imperious but ageing figure, ranting aggressively at her cabinet, refusing to accept that the "Poll Tax" is unjust, even while it is causing riots, and fiercely opposed to European integration. Her deputy, Geoffrey Howe resigns after being humiliated by her in a cabinet meeting, Heseltine challenges her for the party leadership, and her loss of support from her cabinet colleagues leaves her little choice but reluctantly to resign as Prime Minister after eleven years in office. A teary-eyed Thatcher exits 10 Downing Street for the last time as Prime Minister with Denis comforting her. She is shown as still disheartened about it almost twenty years later.

Poll tax (Great Britain)

The Community Charge, commonly known as the poll tax, was a system of taxation introduced in replacement of domestic rates in Scotland from 1989, prior to its introduction in England and Wales from 1990. It provided for a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult, at a rate set by the local authority. The charge was replaced by Council Tax in 1993, two years after its abolition was announced.

European integration process of industrial, political, legal, economic, social and cultural integration of states wholly or partially in Europe

European integration is the process of industrial, political, legal, economic, social and cultural integration of states wholly or partially in Europe. European integration has primarily come about through the European Union and its policies.

Geoffrey Howe British Conservative politician

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon,, known from 1970 to 1992 as Sir Geoffrey Howe, was a British Conservative politician.

Eventually, Thatcher is shown packing up her late husband's belongings, and telling him it's time for him to go. Denis' ghost leaves her as she cries that she actually is not yet ready to lose him, to which he replies "You're going to be fine on your own... you always have been" before leaving forever. Having finally overcome her grief, she contentedly washes a teacup alone in her kitchen despite saying it was a role she would never accept.



Filming began in the UK on 31 December 2010, and the film was released in late 2011.

In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action. [12] Extensive filming took place at the neogothic Manchester Town Hall, which is often used as a location double for films which feature the Houses of Parliament because of its architectural similarity. [13]

Streep said: "The prospect of exploring the swathe cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge. I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses  I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own." [14]

NPR commentator Robert Seigel and Thatcher biographer John Campbell accused writer Abi Morgan and star Meryl Streep of having the most say in the film's production and dictating some historical inaccuracies, such as the film's photography showing no other woman serving in the House of Commons during the time Thatcher was serving, [8] with the hopes of presenting a different image of Thatcher to the film's American audience. [8]


Historical inaccuracies

It is suggested in the film that Thatcher had said goodbye to her friend Airey Neave only a few moments before his assassination, and had to be held back from the scene by security officers. In fact, she was not in Westminster at the time of his death and was informed of it while carrying out official duties elsewhere. [15]

The film does not portray any other female MPs in Parliament. In fact, during Thatcher's time in Parliament, the total number of female MPs ranged between 19 and 41. [16] Additionally, her cabinets are always depicted as all-male, but The Baroness Young, who served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and later Lord Privy Seal, was a cabinet member between 1981 and 1983, while also serving as leader of the House of Lords.

The Labour Party leader Michael Foot is depicted as a critic of the decision to send a task force to the Falkland Islands, and Thatcher is shown admonishing him in the wake of Britain's victory over Argentina. In fact, Foot supported the decision to send a task force, something for which Thatcher expressed her appreciation. [17] John Campbell noted that her decisions in office became an inspiration for the Labour Party's pro-middle ground policies enacted when Tony Blair served as Prime Minister. [8]

Campbell also noted that while Thatcher thought the House of Commons was dominated by a patronising male environment, [8] and that the film showed the representation from her point of view, [8] it did not encourage her to maintain the upper middle class image she used early in her political career as the film suggests and that Thatcher did in fact exploit the fact that she was raised by a grocer in a small Lincolnshire town and had a very ordinary background when she was running for leader of the Conservative Party. [8]

Thatcher's staunch opposition to the 1990 reunification of Germany is not mentioned. The Prime Minister had felt that reunification might pave the way for the expansion of Nazi sympathy, and distrusted the West German government. [18]

Critical reception

The Iron Lady received mixed reviews from critics, although there was strong praise for Streep's performance. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 51% and an average score of 5.7/10, based on 217 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Meryl Streep's performance as The Iron Lady is reliably perfect, but it's mired in bland, self-important storytelling." [19] At Metacritic, the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". [20]

The film's depiction of Thatcher has been criticised by her children, Mark and Carol, who are reported to have said, before completion of the film, that "it sounds like some left-wing fantasy." [21] Stuart Jeffries of the British newspaper The Guardian was cautiously optimistic about a non-British actor playing Thatcher. [10] Karen Sue Smith of America wrote that "by combining the Baroness's real roles of wife, mother and leader, the film's portrait of her does what many purported 'lives of great men' fail to do – namely, show the person in context, in the quotidian." [22]

The Mail on Sunday reported in August 2011 that some viewers invited to a test screening of the unfinished film were concerned at its depiction of Thatcher's frail health in her later years. [23] This view was also shared in the media subsequent to the film's release. The Daily Telegraph reported in January 2012 that "it is impossible not to be disturbed by [Streep's] depiction of Lady Thatcher's decline into dementia" as part of an article that was headlined: "The Iron Lady reflects society's insensitive attitude towards people with dementia." [24] Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, praising Streep's performance but lamenting that "she's all dressed up with nowhere to go" in a film that cannot decide what it wants to say about Thatcher: "[f]ew people were neutral in their feelings about [Thatcher], except(sic) the makers of this picture". [25]

Despite the film's mixed reviews, Streep's performance in the title role garnered much critical acclaim. Kevin Maher of The Times said: "Streep has found the woman within the caricature." [26] David Gritten in The Daily Telegraph commented: "Awards should be coming Streep's way; yet her brilliance rather overshadows the film itself." [27] Xan Brooks of The Guardian said Streep's performance "is astonishing and all but flawless". [28] Critic Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote: "Only an actress of Streep's stature could possibly capture Thatcher's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting." [29] Richard Corliss of Time named Streep's performance one of the Top 10 Movie Performances of 2011. [30]

Streep's portrayal ultimately won her the Academy Award for Best Actress (her 17th nomination and third award overall), as well as several other awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama. [31] [32] The film also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Thatcher died on 8 April 2013 having never seen the film. Her children have actively refused to watch the film. [33]

Box office

The film grossed $30 million in the North America, and $85 million in other markets, for a worldwide gross of $115 million. [4]


  1. "Soldiers of the Queen"
  2. "MT"
  3. "Grocer's Daughter"
  4. "Grand Hotel"
  5. "Swing Parliament"
  6. "Eyelash"
  7. "Shall We Dance?"
  8. "Denis"
  9. "The Great in Great Britain"
  10. "Airey Neave"
  11. "Discord and Harmony"
  12. "The Twins"
  13. "Nation of Shopkeepers"
  14. "Fiscal Responsibility"
  15. "Crisis of Confidence"
  16. "Community Charge"
  17. "Casta Diva"
  18. "The Difficult Decisions"
  19. "Exclusion Zone"
  20. "Statecraft"
  21. "Steady the Buffs"
  22. "Prelude No. 1 in C Major, BWV 846" (Johann Sebastian Bach) [34]

The trailer for the film features Madness's ska/pop song "Our House". [35] The teaser trailer features Clint Mansell's theme tune for the science-fiction film Moon . [35]

Not included on the soundtrack album or listings although credited among the eight songs at the end of the film is "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" by Burnley punk band Notsensibles, which was re-released as a single due to the publicity. The song appears seventy-five minutes into the film, as part of the Falklands War victory celebrations.

Awards and nominations

Awards and Nominations
84th Academy Awards [36] [37] Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Makeup Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland Won
1st AACTA International Awards Best International Actress Meryl StreepWon
BAFTA Awards [38] [39] Best Leading Actress Meryl StreepWon
Best Original Screenplay Abi Morgan Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jim Broadbent Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair Marese Langan, Mark Coulier and J. Roy HellandWon
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Actress Meryl StreepNominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Meryl StreepNominated
Best Makeup Marese LanganNominated
Central Ohio Film Critics AssociationBest ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Denver Film Critics SocietyBest ActressMeryl StreepWon
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Meryl StreepWon
Irish Film and Television Awards Best International ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Best Costume DesignConsolata BoyleWon
London Critics Circle Film Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepWon
British Actress of the Year Olivia Colman Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated
2011 New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepWon
New York Film Critics Online Awards 2011 Best ActressMeryl StreepWon
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsBest ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Meryl StreepNominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Female Actor in a Leading Role Meryl StreepNominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association AwardsBest ActressMeryl StreepWon
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best ActressMeryl StreepNominated

Home media

The Iron Lady was released on DVD in the United States and the United Kingdom on 30 April 2012. The special features in the DVD include Making The Iron Lady, Bonus Featurettes, Recreating the Young Margaret Thatcher, Battle in the House of Commons, Costume Design: Pearls and Power Suits, Denis: The Man Behind the Woman. [40]

See also

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Margaret Thatcher became the first female Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition after winning the 1975 leadership election, the first Conservative leadership election where the post was not vacant. A rule change to enable the election was largely prompted by dissatisfaction with the incumbent leader, Edward Heath, who had lost three of four general elections as leader, including two in 1974. After announcing her first Shadow Cabinet in February 1975, she reshuffled it twice: in January and November 1976. Minor subsequent changes were necessary to respond to various circumstances. Thatcher's Shadow Cabinet ceased to exist upon her becoming Prime Minister following the 1979 general election.

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