The actor issued a statement after Thatcher's death at the age of 87 on Monday, which followed a stroke. Streep said her subject had been a pioneer – "willingly or unwillingly" – for the role of women in politics, allowing females from across the globe to dare to dream of leadership.
"It is hard to imagine a part of our current history that has not been affected by measures she put forward in the UK at the end of the 20th century," wrote Streep. "To me she was a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit. To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system, class-bound and gender-phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement."
The Iron Lady received criticism in some quarters for initially portraying Thatcher in her dotage as a forgetful old woman suffering from dementia. The film, directed by Mamma Mia's Phyllida Lloyd and written by Abi Morgan, then swept through the life of the Grantham grocer's daughter from her early years in politics to her 1980s heyday. The biopic received mixed reviews, but Streep was widely praised for her note-perfect turn as the former prime minister, a performance which saw her win her third Oscar, eighth Golden Globe and second Bafta. Jim Broadbent played Thatcher's husband, Dennis, and Anthony Head played her longest-serving cabinet member (and eventual deputy) Geoffrey Howe.
The full text of Streep's statement following Thatcher's death is as follows:
Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer, willingly or unwillingly, for the role of women in politics.
It is hard to imagine a part of our current history that has not been affected by measures she put forward in the UK at the end of the 20th century. Her hard-nosed fiscal measures took a toll on the poor, and her hands-off approach to financial regulation led to great wealth for others.
There is an argument that her steadfast, almost emotional loyalty to the pound sterling has helped the UK weather the storms of European monetary uncertainty.
But to me she was a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit. To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system, class-bound and gender-phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement. To have won it, not because she inherited position as the daughter of a great man, or the widow of an important man, but by dint of her own striving. To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, levelled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas – wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now – without corruption – I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle. To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable.
I was honoured to try to imagine her late life journey, after power; but I have only a glancing understanding of what her many struggles were, and how she managed to sail through to the other side. I wish to convey my respectful condolences to her family and many friends.
Other figures from the world of film and theatre took to Twitter to pay tribute to Thatcher. "Margaret Thatcher was a visionary, a warrior and a once-in-a-lifetime leader who left the world better than she found it," wrote the actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We'll miss her." Said Harry Potter star Emma Watson: "RIP Margaret Thatcher".
Playwright Peter Morgan was due to deliver a short speech on the passing of Thatcher prior to last night's performance of his new play The Audience at the Gielgud theatre in London's West End. The production stars Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher, with Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, reprising her Oscar-winning role from 2006's Morgan-scripted The Queen. The Audience is about the Queen's relationships with the various prime ministers in power during her reign and is directed by Stephen Daldry.
"Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times," wrote Ken Loach in a statement. "Mass Unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed – this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class. Her victories were aided by the politically corrupt leaders of the Labour Party and of many Trades Unions. It is because of policies begun by her that we are in this mess today.
"Remember she called Mandela a terrorist and took tea with the torturer and murderer Pinochet. How should we honour her? Let's privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It's what she'd have wanted."
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