Can ‘The Iron Lady’ contend for Best Picture?

Meryl Streep, who plays British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” has been a frontrunner for Best Actress since the project was announced. She has already won over the New York film critics and this week picked up nominations from both the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and SAG. While the film has yet to be recognized, as with political elections the Oscars sometimes see upsets. Under the preferential voting system, it is possible it could contend for Best Picture.

The film follows a few days in the life of the present day Thatcher, an elderly widow with diminished mental capacity as she reflects on her life as a teenager in London during the blitz through her political rise and her tenure as Prime Minister. While her growing unpopularity is shown, there is little questioning of her beliefs and actions.

Advance word was that “The Iron Lady” was more of a personal than political saga and that is certainly there with Streep effectively humanizing Thatcher. But as the film presents her beliefs, any opposition — in other political parties and within her own — is portrayed as unsympathetic and sometimes even buffoonish.  Thatcher is never seen as being wrong or even misguided on issues — tax rates for the wealthy too high, labor unions as the enemy — that are echoed in the current American election cycle. Late in the film, when the elderly Thatcher is watching a TV special on her time in office, we hear a line about her accomplishments, and when the negatives are raised, the scene shifts. 

As such, “The Iron Lady” could resonate with the more politically conservative members of the Academy. Many of them may make it No. 1 on their ballots for Best Picture finding it to be that rare film that speaks to them and wanting to get it more attention.

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The craft of the film is certainly solid – the costumes, the art direction, the make-up of course, even the fairly complicated editing. In those aspects, “The Iron Lady” is at least the equal to “The King’s Speech.” 

Having one’s film in the Best Picture race is usually an asset to a nominee. However, if the film is seen as an endorsement of Thatcher’s policies, could the more liberal members of the Academy turn away from rewarding Streep for her performance?

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