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Ms. Lloyd said she initially hesitated to take on such a polarizing figure. Then she read the script by Abi Morgan (“Brick Lane,” “Shame”), and “realized it was not a political film at all.”

She says it is something much more subversive - a film about an elderly woman.

“If the film is political, it’s in wanting to put an old lady at the center of a film,” she said.

That approach makes “The Iron Lady” more a character study than a political or historical drama. It touches on a handful of episodes from her 1979-90 tenure - the 1982 Falklands War, the 1984-85 miners strike, the 1984 Irish Republican Army bombing of the Conservative Party conference hotel in which five people died, and her eventual ousting after a rebellion by browbeaten Cabinet colleagues.

But this is not a film that makes viewers feel they are learning something new about recent and well-remembered events, in the way “The Queen” did with the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

It is, instead, a portrait of aging and regret whose depiction of personal triumph and tragedy against a backdrop of state power has Shakespearean overtones.

Miss Streep has called the film “Lear for girls” - foundering ruler, faithful daughter, false friends - and there’s also a touch of “Julius Caesar” in the story of a leader brought down by conspiring colleagues.

“It’s a film about power and the loss of power,” Ms. Lloyd said. “The cost of a huge life to oneself, one’s family, one’s colleagues” and about how “our great strengths - conviction, certainty - can become our greatest flaws: hubris, inflexibility.”

The filmmakers’ approach may be a canny box office move, allowing viewers to embrace the movie whether or not they support Mrs. Thatcher’s politics.

Initial reactions have been good. Several critics with no love for the Iron Lady say they were moved to tears.

There have not even been the expected howls of outrage at the casting of an American in the role of a British icon.

“I think Meryl has special rights in the U.K.,” Ms. Lloyd said. “And there is almost a subconscious acknowledgment that to play someone of the magnitude of Mrs. Thatcher you need a megastar.”

Journalist Charles Moore, who is writing Mrs. Thatcher’s authorized biography, predicted that the movie would upset Mrs. Thatcher’s friends and family, but said they could take comfort in the fact that it shows her in a positive light.

“The effect of the film is to dramatize very successfully many of the things that made Lady Thatcher so remarkable,” Mr. Moore said.

“It is an extraordinary story of somebody who comes from outside the establishment by sex and by class. It’s a great tale of achievement, of sacrifices made and difficulties overcome.”

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