It almost seems cliché to declare Meryl Streep the frontrunner in Best Actress for “The Iron Lady.” In 2008, she would have won the award for “Doubt” had Kate Winslet not been upgraded from supporting to lead for “The Reader.” The same held true in 2009 with “Julie & Julia” before Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”) gained momentum. But with no clear frontrunner in 2011, Streep at last stands ready to win her first Oscar since 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice.”
This year’s Best Actress race certainly has its contenders. But even more than Glenn Close‘s gender-swapping in “Albert Nobbs,” Streep disappears in the role as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. While a lack of resemblance assures that we never quite forget we’re watching Michelle Williams — not Marilyn Monroe — in “My Week with Marilyn,” the illusion is completed here. Though she is not noble like Viola Davis‘ besieged housekeeper in “The Help,” Streep does something far more difficult: she makes us understand one of history’s most polarizing figures.
Her performance is at once commanding and witty. After declaring Argentina will rue the day they invaded the Falklands, for instance, Thatcher amusingly asks Secretary of State Al Haig how he’d like his tea. Critics have been quick to point out scripting problems in the film, which is why it’s easy to credit Streep with giving the film all its sublime moments.
All the ingredients for an acting win are in “The Iron Lady.” It’s an important film that defines Thatcher as it spans the decades. Streep would be the first actress nominated for playing an elected official in her first star turn in ages. It’s a role unlike any Streep has been cited for before.
David Gritten of The Telegraph raves, “Streep is splendid, giving a detailed, authoritative performance that goes way beyond accurate impersonation to evoke Thatcher’s spirit. One can think of a few talented British actresses who might have acquitted themselves well in the role, but it’s hard to imagine them doing it better than Streep.”
Streep’s constant excellence has been an awards liability. She is the most nominated performer in Oscar history, contending 16 times, but winning only in 1982 and 1979 (Best Supporting Actress, “Kramer vs. Kramer”). The question this season is not whether or not she can get nominated for her acheivement here; it’s if she can finally score her long overdue third win. Surely nearly three decades is a long enough wait.
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