The Iron LadyStarting this list off with a bang is Meryl Streep’s deeply-studied portrayal of one of the earliest female figures in public office, Margaret Thatcher. Unsurprisingly, Streep won the Oscar for Best Actress for this role, despite the fact that the movie itself received mostly lukewarm receptions from most critics. Nevertheless, if you want to see what would happen if a woman were given an almost-authoritarian rule then look no further.
The Manchurian CandidateStreep featured in the 2004 remake of the classic film and filled into the iconic role previously portrayed by Angela Lansbury. She plays a senator who will stop at nothing – not even brainwashing her own son – when it comes to succeeding with her own murderous plan. Streep’s constant emasculation of the men around her fits in perfectly with her own admission of being a “man-eating feminist” in real life.
The River WildThis was the closest Streep has ever got to becoming an action movie star. She plays a wife and mother who must protect her family during a whitewater-rafting trip after they befriend two men who turn out to be dangerous criminals on the run. While the movie itself is rather forgettable and is mostly just one long build-up to the final action scene on the rapids, Streep convinced us with her toughness chops and gave filmmakers a prototype of the women who ought to be seen in action films – tough, brave and strong.
In The Manchurian Candidate, Streep is as ruthless as she is beguiling
Mamma MiaOkay, so I know this is a hard sell when it comes to Streep taking on The Man, but Mamma Mia tells the story of a woman brave enough to take on the huge responsibility of raising a child without the help of a man at a time when such things were unthinkable. And, in fact, in many places, it still is. The surprisingly funny Streep plays a sexually liberated feminist mother who’s doing her best to do right by her daughter as she struggles to come to terms with rapidly-changing circumstances.
DoubtMaybe it’s because we’re all used to seeing Streep as a warm (if serious) person, but her portrayal of the self-righteous Sister Aloysius Beauvier can be downright shocking at times. In the film, she plays a smug and nosy nun who hounds the school’s priest because she’s convinced that he’s involved with a student. The monstrosity of her character and her stubborn refusal to see things any way but her own, which eventually leads her away from the search for God that she has spent her entire life in pursuit of, reminds us of what a phenomenal actress Meryl Streep is. She may not be the winner here, but the audience certainly is.
Death Becomes HerIn what can only be described as a bitingly-satirical take on the shallow pursuit of beauty that seems to permeate Hollywood (and Bollywood for that matter) Meryl Streep plays the vindictive Madeline Ashton, who will stop at nothing – not even mentally torturing her plastic surgeon, played by the hilarious Bruce Willis – to stop aging in its tracks and seek out the secret to eternal youth. The film was a huge success at the time and one of the few black comedies to earn such a massive fandom. Even in this role, Streep manages to make the audience sympathetic towards her character by highlighting the insecurities faced by so many women who can’t help but feel that society has cast them aside once they’re no longer young and beautiful.
The accomplished actress portrays a deluded and morally dubious nun in Doubt
A Cry In The DarkStreep had her job cut out for her with this one. Unfairly still known for the infamous “Dingo’s Got My Baby” moment, which was parodied by several popular TV shows, the film follows the public trial of Lindy Chamberlain, an Australian woman accused of murdering her own child. Streep plays Lindy in exactly the manner that the real Lindy held herself during the trial that made her life a circus sideshow – unsympathetic to the point that the public sees her as guilty. And then she stays in that same character as the evidence against her falls apart.
Julie & JuliaWhen news of this film first emerged, far too many people dismissed it as yet another Meryl Streep stunt – one more chance for her to slip into the skin and mannerisms of a popular public figure, and in this case it was celebrity chef Julia Child. But don’t let that fool you, Streep delivers a powerhouse performance as a woman who dared to work in the ’50s, a time charged with sexism and ill-conceived notions of what a woman ought to do, both in the professional and personal aspects of her life.
SilkwoodLong before there was Erin Brockovich, there was Karen Silkwood – a modest, Midwestern woman who believes that she and her co-workers are being exposed to unsafe levels of radiation at the processing plant. Much like Brockovich who came after her, she becomes an activist almost accidentally and resists the influence of people who want to either use her to further their own cause or silence her to protect their financial interests. What’s fascinating about this character is that Streep inspires people and makes her voice heard without any big movie speeches, resorting only to pure grit and the desire to do good by her own people.
Of course this movie was going to make the list
The Devil Wears PradaJust when everyone thought of Streep as this serious actress who only took on serious roles, she burst onto our screens as the over-the-top Miranda Priestly. With her distinctive white hair, fabulous outfits and a withering look that she spared no one with, she had the audience cracking up with every look of disdain. And, trust us, she has so many of those in the film. Combine those with her razor-sharp intellect and you had a firecracker of a character. The film was so great as a result of her hilarious performance that it redefined what people thought of as a typical ‘chick flick’.
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