Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady
Murdo Macleod/Polaris; Everett
04/08/2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
received universal acclaim and an Oscar
– her third – for her portrayal of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 2011 biopic The Iron Lady
. PEOPLE's critic raved at the time that Streep's turn was more "channeling" than impersonation.
On Monday, after the news broke that Thatcher had died at 87
following a stroke, the actress was quick to point out that, in reality, Thatcher was a complex woman she barely knew – and a woman with a complicated legacy.
"Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer, willingly or unwillingly, for the role of women in politics," Streep said in a statement. "It is hard to imagine a part of our current history that has not been affected by measures she put forward in the U.K. at the end of the 20th century. Her hard-nosed fiscal measures took a toll on the poor, and her hands-off approach to financial regulation led to great wealth for others. There is an argument that her steadfast, almost emotional loyalty to the pound sterling has helped the U.K. weather the storms of European monetary uncertainty."
"But to me she was a figure of awe for her personal strength and grit," Streep continued. "To have come up, legitimately, through the ranks of the British political system, class bound and gender phobic as it was, in the time that she did and the way that she did, was a formidable achievement."
"To have won it, not because she inherited position as the daughter of a great man, or the widow of an important man, but by dint of her own striving. To have withstood the special hatred and ridicule, unprecedented in my opinion, leveled in our time at a public figure who was not a mass murderer; and to have managed to keep her convictions attached to fervent ideals and ideas – wrongheaded or misguided as we might see them now – without corruption; I see that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy for the argument of history to settle," Streep said. "To have given women and girls around the world reason to supplant fantasies of being princesses with a different dream: the real-life option of leading their nation; this was groundbreaking and admirable."
"I was honored to try to imagine her late life journey, after power; but I have only a glancing understanding of what her many struggles were, and how she managed to sail through to the other side. I wish to convey my respectful condolences to her family and many friends."