Movie Talk

‘The Iron Lady’: What Meryl Streep and Co. Got Wrong About Margaret Thatcher

Movie Talk

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Meryl Streep, left, and Margaret Thatcher

Meryl Streep, left, and Margaret Thatcher (Photo: Weinstein Company/Getty Images)

Meryl Streep won her third Oscar for portraying the late Margaret Thatcher -- who died on Monday at the age of 87 following a stroke. (Read Streep and other star reactions.)

But as is often the case with based-on-true-story tales (see: "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty" for two recent examples), 2011's "The Iron Lady" was dogged by claims of historical inaccuracies.

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Actor Nicholas Farrell, left, portrayed Airey Neave in 'The Iron Lady'

Actor Nicholas Farrell, left, portrayed Airey Neave in 'The Iron Lady' (Photo: Weinstein Company/Getty Images)

A shocking moment in history -- when one of Thatcher's closest advisers, Airey Neave, was assassinated in a 1979 car-bomb attack at the House of Commons -- is covered in the film. But the movie depicted Thatcher as having spoken to Neave in person moments before the attack and showing her being held back from the scene by officers. In real life, Thatcher was nowhere near when it happened -- she was away, carrying out official parliamentary duties.

That could be seen as artistic license, but some likely filmmaking oversights in the Neave assassination sequence include the fact that his Vauxhall Cavalier was blue, not red (and not the 1981 model that appears in the film). A 21st century-designed CCTV camera is also briefly visible in the garage where Neave's car is parked. Those did not exist in 1979.

Speaking of cars, a shot from Westminster Bridge of the Houses of Parliament shows an automobile with brake lights about a decade too modern for its depicted '80s setting.

A key Thatcher biographer -- whose book inspired "The Iron Lady" screenplay and who worked as a consultant on the film and even appeared in it -- spoke out against the cinematic version … of his own work. Thatcher biographer John Campbell complained that the film overly abbreviated history, also saying that it minimized the role of men surrounding the late Thatcher. "Instead, it suggests that it was just her that brought the Soviet Union down," Campbell argued, saying the film unfairly made other key politicians who worked closely with Thatcher look weak and ineffective -- when they weren't.

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The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep

No men are seen in pans of Parliament in 'The Iron Lady' (Photo: Weinstein Company)

While Campbell complained there weren't enough men, others have complained the film made Thatcher appear like a lone, isolated female member of parliament. She wasn't. By 1979, there were 19 female MPs -- but they can't be seen in camera pans depicting the House of Commons that same year.

Streep's lauded performance itself was criticized by someone who worked very closely with Britain's first female prime minister. Former Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit contended that Streep completely failed to remind him of Thatcher. "She was never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep," he wrote as "The Iron Lady" prepared to open in theaters.

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Margaret Thatcher, 1976

Thatcher seen in British Parliament, 1976. Is that another dress we see, upper right? (Photo: Getty Images)

And yet another person who was close to Thatcher during her era of power wholly dismissed the film when it came out although he hadn't actually seen it. Her former public relations adviser, Tim Bell, called the film "rubbish," purposefully refusing to comment on the particulars of its content. "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 nonevent," he said.

The film wasn't universally beloved by critics, either -- many complaining it overly softened Thatcher's famous rough edges. (She became known as "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher" in the '70s when she cut a free milk program for schoolchildren -- just one example.) "Plucking the audience's heartstrings feels like the worst possible way to make a film about someone called 'The Iron Lady,'" wrote Andy Lea of the Daily Star.

All of the trash talk about the film and its star, however, didn't stop "The Iron Lady" from enjoying awards season success and box office achievement. The film won two Oscars, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and more -- most honors going to Streep for her Thatcher-rific portrayal. "The Iron Lady" also surprised box office watchers in Britain when it opened there as strongly as did "The King's Speech," and it earned a total of $115 million worldwide.

Watch 'The Iron Lady' Theatrical Trailer:

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