By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 14, 2011 at 2:30AM
It almost feel odd that, in such a strong year for Best Actress candidates, there's no place for Meryl Streep among a competing batch of contenders that include Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. Of course, it's principally because Streep hasn't made a film in the last year -- we're sure that, even if she'd cropped up for five minutes in "Yogi Bear," the Academy would have found some way to nominate her, the actress have being given a nod for three of the last four years (although she hasn't won since "Sophie's Choice" almost thirty years ago).
Never fear, though, Streep's mere weeks away from filming a role that's more-or-less guaranteed Oscar bait, playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a biopic that will see the actress reteam with her "Mamma Mia" director Phyllida Lloyd. The project was initially titled "Thatcher," but now appears to have been retitled "The Iron Lady" (which refers to the politician's nickname, rather than some kind of Robert Downey Jr-aping metal suit sub-plot), and will co-star Jim Broadbent as Thatcher's husband Denis, "Hot Fuzz" actress Olivia Colman as daughter Carol, and rising star Alexandra Roach as the younger Thatcher.
Now, Baz Bamigboye has word of some new additions to the cast for the film, which gets underway in February. "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" star Anthony Head will play Geoffrey Howe, Thatcher's longest-serving Cabinet colleague, while former Secretary of State For Defence John Nott will be represented by Angus Wright ("The Bank Job"). Michael Heseltine, owner of the most extraordinary eyebrows in British politics, and Thatcher's frequent rival, will be played by familiar face Richard E. Grant, and Julian Wadham ("The English Patient") will take on the late Foreign Secretary, Francis Pym.
Roger Allam, one of the more familiar faces in the cast after recent roles in "Speed Racer" and "Tamara Drewe" (as well as picking up political pic experience in Armando Iannucci's "The Thick Of It") has been cast as spin doctor Gordon Reece, and Shakespeare veteran Michael Pennington ("Return Of The Jedi") will play Michael Foot, leader of the Labour party. Bamigboye also reveals that Streep has enlisted the help of a number of former Cabinet colleagues of Thatchers's, as well as advisers and journalists, to aid her usual detailed preparation: a source tells Bamigboye that "It's going to be a portrait, not an impersonation, although Meryl has worked tirelessly on the prime minster's speech pattern and delivery."
The script is by "Brick Lane" writer Abi Morgan, although we're told that Michael Hirst, creator of "The Tudors," and writer of the two Shekhar Kapur/Cate Blanchett "Elizabeth" films, was brought on for a polish fairly recently. Despite our distaste for Thatcher, there's plenty of fascinating potential here, and we're sure Streep will deliver a bravura turn, putting her head-to-head with Michelle Williams, for "My Week With Marilyn," and Rooney Mara, for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," in the 2012 Oscar race. Filming kicks off in February.