Meryl Streep's perf drives box office

One week before it widens in the U.S., Pathe’s Meryl Streep starrer “The Iron Lady” is gripping Spain and Blighty.

In Spain, the B.O. perf could be seen as a bellwether for the pic’s prospects in territories where few have heard of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister known as the Iron Lady, who held power from 1979to 1990 before being ousted by her own Conservative Party.

A firm supporter of President Reagan, Thatcher was both adored and reviled in the U.K. for her right-wing policies. Some industryites feared this might hit the movie’s prospects, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

“The Iron Lady” punched a standout €1.3 million ($1.7 million) off 211 screens in Spain for a robust $7,755 screen average, ranking No. 2 in the charts after “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

” ‘Iron Lady’ was seen in Spain as a Meryl Streep film, not a movie about Margaret Thatcher,” said analyst Pau Brunet at boxoffice.es.

“Streep is Spain’s biggest femme star. She’s a brand and guarantee,” he said.

Distributor Miguel Morales at Wanda Films said the film was positioned “as one about a woman, not specific politics.”

“The film bowed at the highest level of our expectations,” Morales said, adding that it could gross $5 million to $6.5 million in Spain, a banner trawl.

Pic also bowed in Blighty and Australia last weekend, where it grossed solid figures despite a polarized response from the media.

In the U.K., pic came in third, behind tentopoles “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Sherlock Holmes” tallying $3.3 million from 444 screens, while Down Under it entered eighth for the weekend, taking $1.2 million from 157 screens.

While few Brit pics in recent memory have ignited such a debate, with Thatcher being either an idolized political figure or a loathed one, U.K. figures beat Pathe’s “The Queen” (which took $1.3 million from 347 screens in its first weekend in 2006), and trail behind “Slumdog Millionaire,” which grossed $4.3 million from an initial 324 screens in January 2009.

“This result isn’t a surprise for us,” said Pathe managing director Cameron McCracken. “There is an expectation that this film would work, and the reason why is because Meryl Streep is a star and, love her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher is a global figure, so also a star.”

And while the $3 million-$4 million of P&A spent on the pic in the U.K. has undoubtedly helped create awareness, it has sparked numerous political articles evocative of Thatcher.

But McCracken says the brand recognition and national debate has helped box office. “The longer the media talks about it, the more likely the audience will make their way to it.”

(John Hopewell contributed to this report. )

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