Thatcher film leads UK Oscar wins

Meryl Streep and Colin Firth Streep was presented with her Oscar by Colin Firth, who won the best actor prize last year for The King's Speech

Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady has earned her an Oscar for best actress.

It was the US star's 17th nomination and third win in a career that has spanned five decades.

The actress has said she chose to play the former British Prime Minister because of the "Shakespearean" story, which she called "King Lear for girls".

But the success of the very British role came on one of the worst Oscar nights for UK talent in recent years.

Despite Gary Oldman and Kenneth Branagh featuring among the nominees, it was a short film that provided the UK's biggest win.

The Shore, by Northern Irish writer-director Terry George, won the Oscar for best live action short film.

It tells the story of two childhood friends, whose lives were torn apart by the conflict in Ulster, as they rediscover their friendship.

Inspired by a chance meeting while George was researching the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, for which he earned an earlier Oscar nomination, it has taken almost 20 years to get to the screen.

"This film is for the people of Northern Ireland who, after 30 years of war, sat down and made a peace, proving that the Irish are great talkers," said the director in his acceptance speech.

Still image from The Shore The Shore was filmed in Northern Ireland with an entirely local cast

He also paid tribute to his daughter Oorlagh, who raised money for the film and acted as its producer.

"I'd like to thank the Academy because now I don't have to wait for her wedding to tell the world how brilliant she is," he said.

Otherwise, it was in the technical categories that the UK found success.

Make-up artist Mark Coulier picked up a prize for his work on The Iron Lady, which he shared with Streep's long-time stylist J Roy Helland.

In the sound mixing category, John Midgley picked up a statuette for his work on Hugo, having lost out on the prize last year, when he was nominated for The King's Speech.

However, several of this year's big winners - including Hugo and The Iron Lady - were filmed in the UK.

Streep's film, penned by Newcastle-born screenwriter Abi Morgan, proved controversial in the UK, where audiences were split over their support for the central character.

"I don't know if it's sympathetic or it's empathetic but everyone sees her through the prism of their own need, or their own life," she told the BBC last year.

The last time Streep won an Oscar in 1983, Thatcher was prime minister and was about to enjoy a landslide victory in the general election.

Accepting a Bafta earlier this month, Streep added: "The ambition of this film was to look at the life of the Iron Lady from the inside out and to locate something real, maybe hidden, but truthful, in the life of someone that we've all decided we all know everything about already".

Perhaps understandably, she did not feel the need to explain the portrayal in her Oscar speech, simply paying tribute to her husband Dom and Hollywood colleagues.

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