IT is the most eagerly awaited film performance of the year, but is also already proving to be the most controversial.
The Iron Lady, a new biopic starring Meryl Streep as Baroness Thatcher, has drawn an angry response from friends over its portrayal of the former prime minister as a lonely figure sliding into dementia.
In the opening scenes, a frail Lady Thatcher is seen shuffling into a corner shop to buy a pint of milk and expressing shock at 21st-century prices.
Back at her Belgravia home, her security team fret that she has left the house unsupervised.
Another scene shows her oblivious to the fact that her husband, Sir Denis, is dead. She imagines him to be in the room and conducts conversations with him, before revisiting her glory years in a series of flashbacks.
Former colleagues have distanced themselves from the film, which is scheduled for release on Jan 6 and is expected to garner a 17th Oscar nomination for Streep.
Lord Bell, who as Tim Bell was a key PR adviser to the Prime Minister throughout the 1980s, said: “I can’t be bothered to sensationalise this rubbish.
"I can’t see the point of this film. Its only value is to make some money for Meryl Streep and whoever wrote it. I have no interest in seeing it. I don’t need a film to remind me of my experiences of her. It is a non-event.
“It won’t make any difference to her place in history of the fact of what she did.”
Friends and family have dismissed the drama as a “Left- wing fantasy”, although it portrays Lady Thatcher as a strong leader during the Falklands conflict, the miners’ strike and other crises.
Releasing the film during her lifetime is an insult, they have claimed. One friend of Lady Thatcher said she would not watch the film. “She has not seen it. She never watches anything about herself in any case.”
The depiction of Lady Thatcher as a stooped old lady in a headscarf contrasts with her appearance during her most recent public outing.
Dressed in a trademark blue suit, she beamed for the cameras as she celebrated her 86th birthday last month with her son, Sir Mark.
However, the extent of Lady Thatcher’s mental decline was laid bare by her daughter, Carol, in a 2008 memoir.
Miss Thatcher told how the combination of dementia and a series of minor strokes had reduced her mother to a shadow of her former self: struggling to finish sentences or to recognise family members.
Miss Thatcher also disclosed that her mother frequently forgot that Sir Denis died in 2003. “I had to keep giving her the bad news over and over again,” she wrote.
Streep, 62, said she had approached the role with great empathy. “It took a lot out of me, but it was a privilege to play her, it really was,” she said.
“I still don’t agree with a lot of her policies. But I feel she believed in them and that they came from an honest conviction, and that she wasn’t a cosmetic politician just changing make-up to suit the times.”
The script was written by Abi Morgan, whose credits include The Hour, the recent BBC period drama, and the award-winning Sex Traffic. She has spoken little about The Iron Lady except to say: “I think Thatcher fans will be pleasantly surprised.”
Lord Bell conceded that the film could have one positive effect: showing Lady Thatcher’s critics that she was right about the economy and Europe.
Finally, they might realise that “she was the Nostradamus of her day”, he said.
The choice of an American for the role of Lady Thatcher raised eyebrows but Streep is renowned for her ability to capture accents and mannerisms.
Broadbent has defended the casting, saying: “She can bring an outsider’s view to the story so that it won’t become a lazy, parochial piece that Brits understand but where nobody else really knows what’s going on. She can ask the questions that foreign audiences will ask.”
Phyllida Lloyd, the director, said yesterday that she was convinced Streep’s performance would win over Lady Thatcher’s children.
She said: “I’m sure they view any attempt to put their mother on screen with trepidation, as I’m sure we all would. But I think that when they see Meryl’s performance they will understand how much care and attention to Lady Thatcher’s dignity she’s given it.”