Meryl Streep‘s inevitable nomination as British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” will be one of Oscar’s most historically significant. Never before has a performer been nominated for Best Actress for portraying a real-life elected official.
That is a staggering statistic considering it happens in Best Actor on a regular basis. American presidents are popular roles in that category, starting with Raymond Massey in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” (1940). Alexander Knox was nominated for playing Woodrow Wilson in 1944 and James Whitmore contended for playing Harry Truman in “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” (1975). Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella both received bids for their portrayals of Richard Nixon in “Nixon” (1995) and “Frost/Nixon” (2008) respectively.
While playing a president has yet to win an actor the Oscar, taking on the role of a ruling monarch has, most recently last year when Colin Firth won for his portrayal of England’s King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” The monarchy’s Oscar success stretches all the way back to 1933 when Charles Laughton won for “The Private Life of Henry VIII.”
Queens regnant are the only roles of political authority for which Best Actress nominees have ever been cited. Cate Blanchett was twice nominated for playing Queen Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth” (1998) and its sequel “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007). Helen Mirren won in 2006 for “The Queen” impersonating constitutional monarch Elizabeth II. Judi Dench‘s first Oscar bid was as Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown” (1997); she won the following year in the supporting race as Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love.” Vanessa Redgrave‘s “Mary, Queen of Scots” (1971) was the first Best Actress nomination for a turn as queen regnant.
Streep’s nomination as Prime Minister Thatcher, who served the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, would be truly ground-breaking. It is a reminder of Streep’s laudable feminist leanings in the parts she selects.
The only precedent for a Best Actress nominee playing elected official is a fictional one. Joan Allen portrayed an Ohio senator who is tagged to fill the vacant vice presidency in “The Contender” (2000).
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