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Regina Weinreich

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Women in Power: The Iron Lady and The Lady

Posted: 12/15/2011 2:10 pm

Just as this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners -- three women (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman) -- were announced, this film season features two films, The Iron Lady and The Lady. Both films focus on women rulers, one, Margaret Thatcher, a hawk; the other Aung San Suu Kyi, a dove who is in fact a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Both films reflect the steely nerve it takes to lead, revealing there is no one stereotype for women heads of state. In the parlance of the 1970's wave of feminism, they may be called "lady," but these ain't no white glove and pearls sporting eye candy, even if they are wearing these accessories as Thatcher does.

Each of these films offers a view of domestic life, blissful supportive marriage, and loss. It helps her image that Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady is Meryl Streep, the actress who can do no wrong. Here, in aging makeup that makes Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar look normal and natural, Streep smirks her way through a signature stellar performance, the British prime minister making war in the Falklands and making sure her lovely husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) wears a scarf in the damp London cold.

Talk about makeup miracles, as the young Thatcher, 24-year-old Alexandra Roach from Wales had to wear a blond wig, a fake nose and teeth, all of which prepared her for the go-getter role of Thatcher climbing the political ladder.

Tuesday's The Iron Lady premiere at the Royalton was like a Devil Wears Prada reunion with Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci surrounding Streep. When the waiter brought a platter of sliders, Streep lunged with the fierce attention to food of her Julia Child combined with the glee of Mamma Mia.

The Academy will surely nominate Streep for Best Actress as the Golden Globes have, along with Viola Davis and Michelle Williams, but Michelle Yeoh in The Lady, another career-defining portrait, should also be named.

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi (almost a clone in Michelle Yeoh) follows a legacy of martyrdom, leaving Oxford domesticity with Michael Aris (a husband from heaven played by David Thewlis) who championed her efforts to win democracy in Burma, through her house arrests until he died of cancer. She was not at his bedside, making a sacrifice no one should have to make after the heartless regime not only arrested and tortured her followers but denied him visa after visa, saying to her, You need to leave. We will put you on the next plane. Taking her calm pacifist cues from Gandhi, Suu remains under house arrest in her homeland.

At a screening this week at the Asia Society, The Lady, the latest film by director Luc Besson, was introduced by Ang Lee and was followed by a Q&A with Besson and Michelle Yeoh. To photograph some of Burma, the filmmakers disguised themselves as tourists and shot some of the establishing monuments and the gorgeous countryside. The dramatic parts were filmed in northern Thailand where many Burmese refugees remain in exile. Besson took his actors from this group, in particular one brutish soldier with a haunting angular face. When Besson asked him if he could act, the man was not sure. But could he mimic the actions of his country's military? The man replied, No problem. They killed half my family.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.