Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, in-depth discussion, introspective interviews…you name it; we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we usually cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Martin Hearn’s favorite Meryl Streep performances.
Meryl Streep is one of the most incredible actresses of all time, and is someone whose movies and characters have been a big part of my entire life. Her roles are so varied and it feels like there’s nobody she couldn’t portray on screen. Her career continues to go from strength to strength, and whether it’s a comedy, musical, true story, or heart-wrenching drama, she’s definitely starred in something for everyone. It would be wrong for a celebration of women month to pass by and not talk about Meryl so join me as I discuss my favorite Meryl performances of all time.
This is one of the hardest favorites that I’ve ever written as I could honestly just write about everything she’s ever appeared in but then nobody would read it all. Narrowing it down was hard, but here goes.
(It goes without saying that I am loving her in Big Little Lies as you can probably tell from my weekly coverage of the show).
Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt
I have no sympathy for you. I know you are invulnerable to true regret.
It took me quite a while to get round to watching Doubt as I wasn’t really sure it was a story I wanted to watch. I should have just ignored my own doubts and realized sooner that Meryl Streep will never star in a bad movie. Anything she appears in is definitely worth a watch.
It’s true. Doubt is a hard-hitting story which takes place in a Roman-Catholic Elementary School and revolves around the nature of, you guessed it: doubt. Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius, who runs the school, and after hearing that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) may have grown too close to one of the boys, she takes action. The cast is small but the performances are huge.
The film is mainly viewed through the eyes of Sister Aloysius: we follow the story with her and we only know the same facts that she does. We aren’t given a clear answer as to whether anything did happen between Father Flynn and Donald and neither is Sister Aloysius. She takes his final resignation from the school as a sign of his guilt but admits afterward that she has doubts over it. It’s really powerful and we too must make our minds up over the accusations. The performances on both sides are so convincing, but ultimately I have to fall on the side of Sister Aloysius. It’s unsurprising that Meryl won numerous awards for this one as she really does deliver an outstanding performance. It’s raw and it’s heartfelt. It’s one that really can’t be missed.
Karen Silkwood in Silkwood
You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?
This was probably the first Meryl Streep movie I ever watched despite being too young to understand it. I was ill and couldn’t sleep so joined my mother on the sofa to watch it. But I knew from that young age that Meryl Streep was something special and that I needed to see more of her.
Recently I decided to revisit this movie and it still stands up to this day. Based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear whistleblower and labor union activist, it tells the story of her investigation into wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Plant during the 1970s. At times you can forget that you’re watching huge stars like Meryl, Cher, and Kurt Russell as they’re all so convincing in their roles that you truly believe that they are these people. I know that’s an actor’s job but it’s a testament to their acting ability when they can be so believable in a true story.
There’s a truly heartbreaking scene in which Karen discovers her body is contaminated with radiation and she must undergo a decontamination shower where her body is forcibly scrubbed with hard brushes. It leaves her skin red and sore. It’s still a tough watch and this scene haunted me as a child. I could never really get the image of it from my mind. After gathering enough evidence to expose the corners that have been cut within the plant Karen dies in suspicious circumstances and the evidence magically vanishes. It’s a really brilliant movie that will no doubt get remade one day despite never needing an update. To me, it’s perfect as it is and the performances really are outstanding in it. You believe that Meryl is Karen Silkwood, you become invested in the story she’s telling from the off, and your heart will be broken by the end of it.
Topsy in Mary Poppins Returns
And I don’t know my up from my down, my east from my west, my topsy from my bottomsy!
From her performances with Disney, it was hard to choose between Mary Poppins Returns and Into The Woods. But I had to go with the one that I’d spent the last six months continuously singing and dancing around to.
I’m a huge fan of the original Mary Poppins and to tell you the truth I was really apprehensive when they announced this sequel/reboot. Would it work without the iconic Julie Andrews? Did the original need a sequel? Could they create songs that were as catchy as they originally were? The answer to all those questions is a big fat yes—and then some.
Granted Meryl Streep only has a small part in the movie, but she definitely gives a truly magical performance. Playing the part of Mary Poppins’ (Emily Blunt) cousin, Topsy, she performs one of the catchiest tunes in the entire movie: “Turning Turtle.” I find myself still singing this song to myself and trying to imitate her Eastern European accent. It really is perfect in the movie and the entire scene feels like a homage to Uncle Albert’s tea party on the ceiling from the original movie. If they decide to make more Mary Poppins movies (which I am praying hard for) I’ll be one of the first people campaigning for more Topsy.
Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady
We will stand on principle…or we will not stand at all.
Margaret Thatcher is probably one of the most disliked and controversial women from British history so I was shocked when I found out Meryl would be playing her. She was honestly the last person I would have chosen to be her…at the time. Naturally, she gave the performance of a lifetime and now I can’t see anyone but her as the first female Prime Minister. Hell, sometimes I can’t even see the real Margaret Thatcher anymore as I seem to just have Meryl on the brain. Or maybe it’s because she looked and sounded so much like her in the movie that it was unreal?
The plot of the movie itself is really weak to be honest, and littered with historical inaccuracies, but the performances are exceptional. Many consider it Meryl’s greatest ever performance and I would actually struggle to find a way to disagree with them.
It’s hard to know what the movie is actually trying to say about Margaret Thatcher as it focuses on both the bad and good. Its depiction of her in her later years during her decline with dementia feel like a way of gathering some sympathy. But when a lot of the movie has focused on the bad decisions she made while in office that had such a negative impact on the country it’s hard to be moved by them. That being said I have watched this movie a number of times. When Meryl is there delivering the performance of a lifetime it’s hard not to keep returning to it.
Clarissa Vaughan in The Hours
This is what we do. This is what people do. They stay alive for each other.
The Hours is, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies of all time. When you put three of the greatest actresses of our lifetime on screen together (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore) then obviously you’re going to get something out of this world.
It tells the story of three women from three different generations whose lives are all woven together by the Virginia Woolf novel Mrs. Dalloway. You’d think that a movie with main themes of mental health and suicide would be dark and perhaps morbid, but it’s honestly anything but. Obviously, it will break your heart and reduce you to a blubbing mess, but its story is told so beautifully.
I’d read the novel long before I’d seen the movie and I was a little cautious about watching it at first. I know that some movie adaptations tend to stray away from the source material and often feel like they don’t tell the real original story. That definitely isn’t the case with this one. It’s faithful to the book and the portrayals are simply perfect.
No matter how many times I watch this film it still gets to me. I still cry, and I still wonder how a movie can be so powerful. I very much doubt that without these acting greats involved it would have had the same impact.
Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada
You have no style or sense of fashion.
I haven’t watched The Devil Wears Prada in more years than I care to admit but I can still safely say it’s one of the greatest movies ever. I could say this about every role that Meryl Streep has taken on, but she definitely gives her all (and then some) to Miranda Priestly.
She’s bitchy, she’s funny, but she’s also so incredibly complex that it would be hard to find something you didn’t like about her character. That is largely due to how perfectly Meryl plays her. Miranda’s whispery diction is something I can see creeping into her current role as Mary Louise Wright in Big Little Lies. When you’ve played a character as divine as Miranda why wouldn’t you sneak elements of her personality into another role? Despite being a bitch she’s just a pleasure to watch and truly owns every scene that she’s in.
I know this has been said by just about everyone now but I watched The September Issue in recent years and it’s hard not to see Miranda Priestly when you look at Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Meryl has always insisted she didn’t base her characterization on Wintour though and instead claimed to have based it on men she’d known. There weren’t enough women in power to base her performance on, so she chose men instead.
So far I don’t know a single person who hasn’t seen this movie so if you haven’t, where the hell have you been?
Julia Childs in Julie & Julia
These damn things are as hot as a stiff cock.
If you’ve seen the movie Doubt, which I talked about earlier, then you can see how amazingly well Meryl Streep and Amy Adams work together. When I heard Julie & Julia would be putting these two together again I simply had to see it. What I didn’t realize was that despite being the two lead stars they wouldn’t actually have any scenes together. Which, it turns out, isn’t actually a bad thing.
While I am a big Amy Adams fan, it’s Meryl who steals the show with her performance as Julia Childs. I didn’t know much about Julia Childs before watching this movie. All I really knew is that she was a chef from way back. I actually loved learning of her story though and was even inspired by her and Julie Powell’s story. They both made me want to be creative in some way.
At the end of the movie, we learn that after Julie’s story is shared by The New York Times it is eventually dismissed by Julia Childs, her hero. She’s understandably upset. Seeing Julie and her blog as something of an inspiration I reached out to the real Julie to compliment her, tell her I was inspired, and ask for some words of wisdom. It turns out that Julie Powell is just as dismissive as Julia Childs was to her.
Moral of the story: just enjoy the sheer brilliance of Meryl Streep and use her performances as inspiration instead.
Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia!
Somebody up there has got it in for me. I bet it’s my mother.
OK, so it’s guilty pleasure confession time: I bloody love Mamma Mia! Its got Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, and it’s camp with a whole bucket load of Abba. What’s not to love? Yeah I know, they probably shouldn’t have let Pierce Brosnan sing in a movie like ever, but it is what it is. I’ll defend this movie to my death and I’ll even go out on a limb and say I love the sequel too. It’s got Cher in it for god’s sake, how could I not love it?
Both films are your typical musical with an easy to follow plot. The characters break into song for no reason, except in this movie every song is an Abba song. It’s silly, it’s over the top, the sequel contradicts the first movie, and the plot is a bit of nonsense, but it’s all just a bit of harmless movie fun. I see people complain about these movies all the time and I’ll never understand why. You know exactly what you’re in for with musicals like this. Let us have our fun!
Meryl kills it as Donna Sheridan in the first movie and she easily gets all of the best songs. Her emotional rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” is truly outstanding and gets me every time. But then I’m just as happy tapping my foot along with her as she belts out “Mamma Mia.” If you love Meryl and love Abba then you’ll probably love this movie. If you don’t then you’re probably lying.
Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice
No, I was sent to Auschwitz because they saw that I was afraid.
If you’ve ever doubted Meryl Streep’s ability to deliver powerful performances (god knows why you ever would) then you should sit down and watch Sophie’s Choice. Although you should be prepared to have your heart absolutely shattered by the end of it.
Meryl’s performance in this movie is almost hypnotic and it’s impossible to not be mesmerized whenever she’s on screen. You believe in her performance so much that it genuinely feels like she’s lived through the horrors of Zofia’s past. There’s a reason she won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this movie—it would have been a crime if she hadn’t.
I became obsessed with this movie after being shown certain scenes from it in a history project at school. I couldn’t stop watching it and there was a time I knew most of the scenes word for word. After taking an extended break from watching it I decided to revisit it again a few years ago to see if it would still have the same kind of impact. It did.
Despite knowing what was coming next and despite knowing what her choice was all about (which I actually won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it for some reason) I was still heartbroken by the end of it. The story is powerful in itself but when it’s coupled with the brilliance of Meryl it becomes something so unique that it can never be replicated.
Please do check this one out if you haven’t. You won’t be disappointed at all.
Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her
Could you just not breathe?
For reasons I shall never understand Death Becomes Her didn’t do so well with the critics when it first released in cinemas. I and just about everyone I know have always loved it, though. How could you not?
Probably her best movie and best performance it’s one that I will never tire of watching. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that it’s also Bruce Willis’s and Goldie Hawn’s greatest performances too. I mean, it’s got everything. It opens with a song, it’s plot is so nonsense it’s superb, it’s hilarious, and has some pretty top-notch special effects.
There’s very little I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said hundreds of times over the years, other than it’s just out of this world. It has a cult following now, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s something that gets referenced or parodied a lot. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it and if they didn’t I’m sorry but I’d have to insist they were lying.
When the movie begins and Helen is obese and living in a psychiatric unit she frequently says that she wants to talk about Madeline Ashton. Well, that is literally me. I could talk about Madeline Ashton till the day I die, and probably will.
I could genuinely go on and on listing Meryl Streep movies and why I love them…but we would probably just end up with her entire filmography listed here. There are tons of other films to chose from so let me know what you would have picked in the comments.