With Gillian Anderson stepping into the shoes of Britain’s first female prime minister for the new series of The Crown, here’s our guide to the other actors who have enjoyed a turn as Mrs T:
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, 2011)
Not dissimilar to the reaction that greeted Anderson a decade later, Hollywood icon Meryl Streep caused a bit of a stir amongst fellow luvvies when it was announced she would portray Mrs Thatcher (who Streep described as a ‘figure of awe’) in flagship biopic The Iron Lady. While Abi Morgan’s screenplay inevitably indulges in a few dramatic liberties along the way (not least with the asssasination of Airey Neave), Thatcher buffs will struggle to pick flaws with Streep’s performance, which oozes ambition and fortitude at every turn.
If you’re watching for a second or third time, keep an eye out for a cameo from a young Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a secretary.
Andrea Riseborough (The Long Road to Finchley, 2008)
Just three years before The Iron Lady, it was Andrea Riseborough who took on the role of Margaret Roberts when she starred in the BBC’s own biopic, The Long Road to Finchley. Focusing on the future prime minister’s attempts to prove her mettle as a prospective MP, the drama generated controversy before it was broadcast when the BBC was pressured into dropping a scene in which the young Ms Roberts ranted about the “f*****ng establishment” of the Conservative party.
The controversial scene had been criticised by members of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet who felt it was inaccurate and disrespectful.
Lindsay Duncan (Margaret, 2009)
Commissioned almost immediately after The Long Road to Finchley, the BBC’s second Thatcher drama stars stage favourite Lindsey Duncan as the iconic prime minister as she attempts to face down the cabinet revolt that will ultimately end her premiership. Not content with just telling the one story (and what a corker of a story it is) the film intersperses Thatcher’s eventual downfall with flashback scenes to the 1975 Conservative leadership race, where she emerges as an outside candidate to defeat incumbent leader Ted Heath.
Incidentally, what was the only publication to back her from the beginning? The Spectator.
Fenella Woolgar (Handbagged, 2013)
Call the Midwife regular Fenella Woolgar put in a delightfully comic turn as Mrs Thatcher in Moira Buffini’s 2013 play, Handbagged – a high-energy take on the rocky relationship between the prime minister and the Queen. Full of smart theatrical trickery, whip-smart dialogue and and the occasional demolition of the fourth wall, the play was a smash hit for Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre, winning itself a successful West End transfer. In reviews Woolgar was rightly praised for her suitably sophisticated portrayal of Thatcher: commanding and boisterous at times, yet acutely conscious of her own vulnerabilities.
Steve Nallon (Spitting Image, 1984 – 1990)
Up-and-coming club comic Steve Nallon got his breakthrough gig in 1984 when he joined the cast of Spitting Image as the voice of the cigar-chomping, pinstripe-suit-wearing caricature of Margaret Thatcher. While many of the sketches themselves – from the infamous vegetables gag to the PM summoning Norman Tebbit as her leather-clad enforcer – have become iconic, Nallon also became well-known as a Thatcher impersonator, appearing as his alter ego alongside Rick Mayall in The New Statesman and, more than 20 years later, as a straight portrayal of Lady T in the Geoffrey Howe-focused play Dead Sheep.
Jennifer Saunders (The Haunting of Tony Blair, 2011)
Though this revival of the 80s ‘Comic Strip Presents…’ format might have landed to mixed reviews, it surely deserves credit for bringing us the iconic Jennifer Saunders as a rather offbeat Mrs Thatcher. In keeping with the Comic Strip format (which plays out better on screen that it does in written description), the film blends political satire with old Hollywood archetypes. In this case, Stephen Mangan plays Blair as a Noir-era fugitive on the run for a series of shady murders, before taking shelter with a vampish and reclusive Mrs Thatcher (a la Sunset Boulevard). While the jokes are a bit hackneyed at times, the Ab Fab star delivers just as well as you’d expect.
Lesley Manville (The Queen, 2009)
It turns out that Gillian Anderson isn’t the only Crown actor to have donned the iconic blue suit. Her soon to be co-star Lesley Manville (who takes over from Helena Bonham-Carter in the role of Princess Margaret in season five) also had a turn as Mrs Thatcher in Channel 4’s docu-drama The Queen, which dived into that familiar source of intrigue of the sovereign’s relationships with her prime ministers. While some of the dramatisation is slightly ropey (notwithstanding Manville’s excellent performance), we do get a fascinating exploration of how the prime minister and sovereign disagreed over how to handle apartheid South Africa in the run up to the 1986 Commonwealth games. It’s currently available on YouTube.