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James Dempsey: The Oscars are not for turning ... put your money on Iron Lady Meryl


Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady'

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady'

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady'

CAN the Iron Lady really walk home with the golden statue?

That’s what every critic and would-be blogger has been wondering since the first production still of Meryl Streep coiffed as the battle-axe baroness Margaret Thatcher surfaced online way back in February of last year.

The teaser trailer only added a resolutely Tory fuel – albeit not coal, obviously – to the fire surrounding the first lady of modern cinema, long-time regarded as somewhat of a runner-up in Oscar’s eyes, having only bagged two out of sixteen nominations and not winning since 1983’s Holocaust drama Sophie’s Choice.

That was only nomination number four, and since then it’s been 29 years and soon to be a baker’s dozen of the plumpest dramatic roles any actress could sink her teeth into.

Meryl Streep has become a synonym for transformative acting, who can become anyone at anytime: a nuclear whistle-blower, a Danish plantation owner, an Australian accused of murdering her daughter, a barb-sniping magazine editor and the bumbling maestro of boeuf bourguignon. Put it this way, my Dad goes to see her films just because she’s in them.

For a long time 2012 has been earmarked as Streep’s year to finally bag that hat-trick, and it’s difficult to argue with the Oscar-baiting facts; her Maggie is a British-accented period-costume wearing darling of Reaganite Republicanism.

A woman portrayed as a trailblazing feminist icon making inroads in the male-dominated arena of political discourse. She’s as much a maligned matriarch of British conservatism in millinery and pearls as a defiant guardian of the scattered shreds of a once-great empire.

But wait, there’s more… Just in case the traditionally left-leaning voters of the Academy aren’t blown away by Streep’s pitch-perfect embodiment of Britain’s only female premiere – and really, Streep is so good she may as well have snatched the milk from out of my hands – Phyllida Lloyd’s film finds the time to throw in a chronic mental illness, using Thatcher’s much publicised dementia as a key plot device in framing this biopic. Thereby ticking all the boxes bar Nazi war crimes on the way to awards’ acceptance.

Really, the other actresses (most likely Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Tilda Swinton and Michelle Williams) may as well perfect their gracious-loser look now, because Streep will almost certainly be first past the post in the Kodak Theatre come February 26th. The bookies are offering even odds and the statistics are on her side, with the biopic, a dramatised retelling of the key events in a person’s life, proving by far the most popular film genre with Academy voters in the acting categories in recent years. In fact, we have to look all the way back to 1993 to find a year in which none of the acting Oscars was given to a performer playing a character inspired by a real person.

Expect the backlash against Streep’s Thatcher to start in early February, as the buzz builds before her inevitable win. The naysayers will decry her performance as the only good thing about the film – indeed this Iron Lady is currently dragging her high heels at 55pc on RottenTomatoes, with the critics universally and singularly supporting Streep’s dominant rendition of one of the 20th century’s shrewdest political minds at the cost of Lloyd’s nostalgic and heavy-handed direction and Abi Morgan’s sentimental and unreliable script.

Then there’ll be the tentative attempts to draw a critical line between where an impression ends and a performance begins, quasi-intellectual blurbs from noted film academics that seek to draw a distinction. They’ll compare Streep’s steely reserve and singsong voice to decades’ worth of House of Commons orations and political satire on Spitting Image in an attempt to find fault.

And ultimately, it won’t be worth the effort, as Oscar’s not for turning. After 29 years and a record number of nominations, Meryl Streep will win her long-awaited third Academy Award. Somewhat fitting, really, playing the woman that famously said, I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.