Cannes 2011: Spirit of Margaret Thatcher (and Meryl Streep) hovers over festival


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Sometimes the most interesting movies at the Cannes Film Festival aren’t playing the Cannes Film Festival. They’re projects -- everything from scripts to finished movies -- that are being sold at the market, the rights bazaar that runs concurrent with the elegant screenings of auteur films.

There was the year, for instance, a quirky ballet movie that hadn’t shot a single frame of footage was being shopped for a very reasonable price. That project turned out to be a little film called ‘Black Swan.’ (No one bought it.)


So far this year one project is rising above the rest: ‘Iron Lady,’ Meryl Streep’s take on Margaret Thatcher. The movie, which shot this winter and tells of both the personal and professional life of the former British prime minister, has plenty of buzz around it; entire blogs, in fact, are devoted to tracking it.

As with many films in the market, though, there’s a problem: No one’s seen the blasted thing. The sales agent that’s handling rights here, Pathe, is looking to make a deal with a buyer in the U.S to distribute the film, which is currently in post-production, based on footage alone. If it can close a sale, the movie could hit theaters this fall and become a force in Oscar season.

As for who might pick it up, the Weinstein Co. is believed to be at least one of the serious contenders, according to two competing buyers. A spokesman for the company did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but the awards-minded firm would be a logical home for several reasons, not least of which is that Harvey Weinstein doesn’t have an obvious best picture contender yet this year. That’s a notable absence in any season but certainly in the wake of the Weinstein Co.’s win for ‘The King’s Speech’ this year. ‘Iron Lady’ may be a credible candidate.

[Updated, 4:41 a.m. May 13: A source familiar with negotiations confirms that Weinstein has indeed acquired rights to the film. The company is expected to issue an official release shortly.]

Still, there are questions. One buyer who spoke to 24 Frames on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of rights dealmaking, noted that buyers had until now been holding back to see if Streep plays a convincing Thatcher; footage is now being shown to executives. The movie is also directed by Phyllida Lloyd, whose previous film credit, ‘Mamma Mia,’ doesn’t scream serious biopic.

‘Iron Lady’ does play strongly to several current trends: It comes off the strong box office for the British ‘King’s Speech,’ touches on U.S. interest in British public figures a la the recent royal wedding, and centers on a political leader with a strong anti-union stance, a subject that’s been prominent in the news for several months now. And, oh yes, it stars Streep, who’s had a remarkable string of box-office hits and has been nominated for an Oscar an eye-popping five times since 2000. And of course ‘The Queen’ was a hit in the U.S. five years ago. Don’t be surprised if a deal for ‘Iron Lady’ happens at this spring festival and the movie hits theaters in the fall.



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-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France