Meryl Streep’s ‘Iron Lady’ becomes a prime Oscar 2012 contender

If there was ever a movie in production that screamed Oscar bait over the past year or so it’s Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady.”  The true story of Margaret Thatcher’s early years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the drama features legendary actress Meryl Streep as Thatcher and Academy Award winner and prestige picture vet Jim Broadbent as her husband in the title roles.

Independently financed and produced by Pathe UK, “Iron Lady” kept its goods close to the vest before showing five minutes of the picture at the Cannes Film Market yesterday to entice U.S. bidders.  Summit, Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company reportedly had the most interest, but Weinstein teamed up with billionaire Ron Burkle to seal the deal for approximately $7 million.  The two parties previously partnered on acquiring “The Details” with Tobey Maguire and “Our Idiot Brother” during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

In a statement released by The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein remarked “Having worked with both Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent, I know that they are without peer as film actors.  Even so, I was absolutely blown away by what I saw of their performances as Margaret and Denis Thatcher. Phyllida is doing an incredible job.”

Ivernel and Cameron McCracken, MD Pathé UK, who produced the picture, added, “We are excited to be in business again with Harvey and his team – ‘The Iron Lady’ has found a worthy home in TWC and a great champion for the US market.”

Expect “The Iron Lady” to hit the top of prospective best picture and best actress lists once awards season ramps up in August (And yes, it’s only two months away).  To say it would be shocking if Streep isn’t nominated is an understatement and the picture, based on its pedigree, is a clear player for a best picture nomination.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t lay any money down in Vegas that “Lady” will actually win best picture.  That’s a bigger reach.  For The Weinstein Company, “Lady” will be able to run the awards season game to positive theatrical returns based on Streep’s presence and the subject matter alone.  Looking at Streep’s box office history, “Doubt’s” $33 million U.S. gross would have to be a minimum benchmark with the similarly themed “The Queen’s” $56 million take a good bet. 

Back to Streep’s quest for a third Oscar win, if she delivers another impressive turn in “Lady” 2012 will again find her facing a slew of young and impressive ingenues.  Elizabeth Olsen in ” Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Like Crazy’s” Felicity Jones are just two of the youngsters out there in contention (and if the buzz is to believed, Tilda Swinton might find another nomination for the Cannes drama “We Need To Talk About Kevin”).  Few studios have been willing to play the “it’s time” card for Streep to not leave the Kodak Theater a loser once more.  As Streep finally admitted in 2009, attending the show 12 times since 1983 and losing each time has started to wear a bit on her.  She might already be a two-time winner, but in the history of the Academy Awards no actor or actress has ever been teased so cruelty  by his or her peers (intended or not).

Will 2012 break the streak? We’ll find out sooner than you think.  “The Iron Lady” should hit theaters sometime this December.

For everyday entertainment commentary and more follow Gregory Ellwood on twitter @HitFixGregory.