The Ladies Are for Turning: How Maggie Seduced Meryl -- and Reduced Me to Tears ; Britain's First Female PM Is a Hate Figure to a Generation of Liberal Women. Yet in the Iron Lady,a Group of These Same Sworn Enemies and Meryl Streep, Who Plays Mrs T, Find a Fighter to Cherish
Hoggard, Liz, The Evening Standard (London, England)
IT'S NOT every day that Meryl Streep bakes you a cake. But on Saturday night, she did just that: an American apple cake, made from a recipe by Julia Childs, the groundbreaking cookery writer played by Streep in the 2009 film Julie & Julia.
You could say the cake was a sweetener because I -- and a dozen other opinionated women -- had been summoned to discuss a far less palatable subject: Margaret Thatcher.
Earlier that evening, before our informal "kitchen supper", we had crowded into a private screening of the longawaited biopic of the former prime minister, The Iron Lady. Now, I find myself sitting in Islington in the Georgian home of the film's director, Phyllida Lloyd, eating homemade chicken curry alongside Streep, who plays Thatcher, and screenwriter Abi Morgan (Sex Traffic, The Hour, Shame). Grande dame columnists Polly Toynbee, Suzanne Moore, Janet Street-Porter and India Knight are to my right. Across the table are actress Tracey Ullman, broadcasters Jenni Murray, Fi Glover, Edith Bowman and Lauren Laverne.
A group of strong women, none of us obvious Thatcherites, debating the Iron Lady's legacy.
Arguably what united us was our antipathy towards Thatcher. Growing up as a Lefty feminist in the West Midlands, I felt oppressed by a Tory government which specialised in union-bashing and BBC-baiting, told the unemployed to get on their bikes and introduced the homophobic Section 28 legislation. Laverne is the granddaughter of a miner; Toynbee a well-known Thatcher-baiter; Murray confronted Maggie about her childcare policies on Woman's Hour.
All weekend Twitter hummed with grown women debating what to wear to the dinner party of the year (dungarees, in tribute to Mamma Mia!? Or a French Lieutenant's Woman ballgown?).
In fact Streep, 62, dressed in print shirt and dark trousers, does all she can to keep things normal. She passes around canapes, helps wash up. She has even brought her daughter along to join in the discussion. Streep has a reputation for turning film sets into a family unit. She and Lloyd worked together on Mamma Mia!. She met Ullman on the set of David Hare's Plenty and they have been friends ever since.
But there's another reason she has organised this evening. Streep knows a political biopic of an "old lady" will be a hard sell at the box office where franchises are aimed at teenage boys. The film, she tells us, "is about how this divisive pioneer, who was monstrous in some ways, broke through in a way I couldn't have imagined when I was that age".
After the success of Mamma Mia! she and Lloyd could have chosen a frothy rom-com but Streep wanted to do a film about "the end of a life" which "circles questions of mortality". When she read Morgan's script about Margaret Thatcher, she knew she had found her project.
WHAT drew Streep to the script was her own dislike of Thatcher. "I wasn't a fan. In America she was this woman who hung out with Reagan and we didn't like her policies and it was easy to dismiss her because our iconic political women were figures like Jacqueline Kennedy. In contrast she seemed dowdy -- and we judge female politicians in a different way than we do men," she apologises. "I was guilty of that." Making the film gave her a chance to challenge her own prejudices.
But could the film alter my own lessthan-rosy views of Maggie Thatcher, milk-snatcher? In many ways The Iron Lady is a feminist re- evaluation of Thatcher's life -- and the price she paid for power. It is hard to remain unmoved at the sheer scale of the challenges she overcame to reach the highest office in the land.
The camera films mostly from her perspective -- so you are with her from her 10-year bid to win her first parliamentary seat to the physical assault course of first entering the macho House of Commons. It is undeniably a lonely road. Apart from her own daughter, Carol, and Thatcher's beloved dresser, Crawfie, there are very few women in the film, and certainly no other female MPs. …