Film

CinemaDope: Working Women

Meryl Streep takes on Margaret Thatcher.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Alex Bailey Photo, Courtesy of Pathe Productions LTD/The Weinstein Company
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

Few working actresses can lay claim to the sort of plaudits that have been heaped upon Meryl Streep. Since almost the beginning of her career, she has been a critical as well as a popular success; a screen debut in 1977's Julia was followed a year later with her first Oscar nomination for her role as a woman torn between two men in The Deer Hunter. She lost out to Maggie Smith, but won a year later for the emotional divorce story Kramer vs. Kramer. She never looked back.

More awards followed—including her recent Kennedy Center honors—but Streep has always been a worker first and foremost, never one to rest on her laurels or take too long a break. And she has a deep-running populist streak, appearing not only in small-crowd art hits but also mall-movie blockbusters like Mamma Mia! and The Bridges of Madison County. Through it all she has managed to humanize the artier fare and raise the ante of lesser material that might consume average actresses.

This week, she might have to strike her greatest balance yet when she takes on the role of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!), Streep's latest is a look at the life and times of the United Kingdom's first female Prime Minister and, true to form, the actress' portrayal is already being hailed with a shower of early awards. And who better to play her? Both women possess a sort of steely reserve and focused determination that keeps them moving forward in shifting winds. But while Thatcher's legacy as a trailblazer is cemented—and a big part of what makes her such a fascinating subject for a biography—her legacy as PM is still underexplored on this side of the pond.

Coming into the office during a sharp economic downturn, Thatcher presided over widespread recession and unemployment. Her hard-line response to the crisis—with a push for deregulation and the closure of state-owned industries—earned her both praise (from the Reagan-era right) and scorn (from those who saw it as throwing out the baby with the bathwater). All these years later, her impact is still contested, and with an actress of Streep's stature as our window on the woman, moviegoers are likely to leave the theater with still more fodder for the great debate.

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Also this week: Pleasant Street is screening some other films of note, such as Steve McQueen's new film Shame. Starring Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as a troubled pair of siblings, the film's no-holds-barred portrayal of its lead character's sex addiction has earned it an NC-17 rating. Mulligan is his boozy, torch-singer sister whose unexpected arrival upsets the complicated machinery of his secret life. And at midnight on Friday, Jan. 20, the colorfully titled I Drink Your Blood arrives for a special screening. Cultish even for cult film fans, this 1970 piece of shock horror follows a group of Satanist, drug-addled hippies who terrorize a town—only to have the town turn on them by feeding them rabies-infected meat pies. What's next? You'll have to show up to see.

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Finally this week, word has arrived that Hadley's Cinemark theater has cracked the champagne on its new XD theater. Similar in effect to an IMAX experience, these theaters—Cinemark has been rolling them out nationwide—feature gigantic, wall to wall, ceiling to floor screens, custom audio installations, and new digital projectors. If you go (and fans of the movie-going experience should) follow this simple rule: be sure you see something with explosions.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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