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Meryl Streep: A Life in Pictures

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Set to hit screens this week in The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep remains one of Hollywood's greatest and most decorated actresses. From her student days at Yale to delivering iconic performances in Sophie's Choice, Kramer vs Kramer and The Devil Wears Prada, we look back at her remarkable career in front of the lens

Click on any of the images below to launch the gallery

Image credit: REX Features

Words by Dipal Acharya

  • Meryl Streep 1970s

    Born Mary Louise Streep in Bernardsville, New Jersey, in 1949, she was the daughter of Harry William Streep and Mary Wolf, a former art editor.With early aspirations to work in Opera, Streep eventually enrolled in the Yale School of Drama, earning an Master of Fine Arts degree

  • Meryl Streep 1978

    Although Meryl landed her first big-screen role in the film Julia, the part was small. This was soon followed by a turn in TV mini-series Holocaust, detailing the struggles of a Jewish family within Nazi Germany

  • Meryl Streep 1978

    It was for her turn in The Deer Hunter that Meryl finally garnered critical attention. Playing Linda, the film examined the trials and tribulations of a small US town in the wake of the Vietnam war. It would be one of her landmark performances and earn Streep her first Oscar nomination

    In her personal life, Streep's romantic attachment to co-star John Cazale was cut tragically short,after he died shortly after filming was completed. The sudden death plunged Streep into a period of intense film work to cope with the loss

  • Meryl Streep 1979

    Although the consummate professional, this did not make playing romantic scenes in films any easier for Streep, pictured here in Woody Allen's romantic comedy Manhattan playing the lesbian ex-wife of the film's protagonist

  • Meryl Streep 1979

    Despite her glamorous looks, it was for her sheer acting talent that Streep was truly praised. Her breakthrough role came starring opposite Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer, the story of an acrimonious custody battle between husband and wife

  • Meryl Streep 1979

    Streep's knockout performance led to her being nominated and winning the Oscar for Best Actress at the Academy Awards later that year

  • Meryl Streep 1981

    Following off the success of Kramer, Meryl Streep began to win some of Hollywood's most coveted roles. This included her turn in The French Lieutenant's Woman (also starring Jeremy Irons) and would earn Streep her first BAFTA award. The BBC described this period of her career as 'Streep's Golden Era'

  • Meryl Streep 1982

    Soon after, Streep expanded her acting range into the world of thrillers, starring as the mysterious girlfriend of a murder victim in Still of the Night

  • Meryl Streep 1982

    It would be in the same year, however, that the actress would take on one of her career defining roles. Starring in Sophie's Choice, a film adaptation of William Styron's novel of the same name, Streep played a former concentration camp prisoner who cannot get away from her appalling past in Nazi Germany

  • Meryl Streep 1982

    Her moving portrayal won Streep her second Oscar, although few realised that the actress was never intended for the lead role and worked hard to lobby the director Alan Pakula to give her the part. The risk paid off, with critics claiming it was Streep's finest performance to date

  • Meryl Streep 1984

    Reunited with her Deer Hunter co-star Robert De Niro, her next role was playing an adulterous lover in Falling in Love. Dubbed by Film4 as a 'dull reworking of brief encounter' the film received lukewarm reviews at the time

  • Meryl Streep 1985

    Streep continued her winning streak in Out of Africa, starring opposite Hollywood hearthrob Robert Redford, as the fiercely independent Karen Blixen-Flecke. The film racked up a phenomenal 11 Academy Award nominations and took away 7, including Best Picture, Director and Cinematography

  • Meryl Streep 1986

    It was off the back of this winning streak that Streep was awards the 'Best All Round Female Entertainer' gong at the People's Choice awards in 1986 (pictured opposite)

  • Meryl Streep 1987

    Demonstrating what an all-rounder she truly was, the actress also sang on the big screen for the first time in Ironweed, playing a sickly Helen Archer, the archetypal New York bum

  • Meryl Streep 1989

    Approaching the early nineties, Streep's star began to lose it's lustre as she began to increasingly appear in a string of average box-office releases including She Devil (pictured opposite) in 1989

  • Meryl Streep 1990

    Critics were briefly silenced when Streep appeared in the comedic Postcards From The Edge with Shirley McLaine. The role was a departure from the icy blonde characters that the actress was increasingly becoming known for

  • Meryl Streep 1992

    It was precisely this reputation that made Streep ideal for her role in the dark comedy Death Becomes Her, Robert Zemeckis' tale of two women who make a Faustian pact in an attempt to achieve eternal youth. The film was not a huge box office hit, despite Streep's celebrity co-stars Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis

  • Meryl Streep 1994

    Streep took on the lead role in The River Wild to shake up the string of mediocre hits at the box office with a gripping adventure story, co-starring Kevin Bacon. Despite the early nineties lull in her career, Streep remained unfazed, choosing to focus on her family life, with husband Don Gummer and their four children, back home in the USA

  • Meryl Streep 1995

    But the lull wasn't due to last long as Streep's part in The Bridges of Madison County perked up the critics' ears again. Starring alongside Hollywood heartthrob Clint Eastwood, the story was described by The New York Times as "a moving, elegiac love story "

  • Meryl Streep 1996

    Unafraid of tackling yet another emotional role, Streep followed up with Marvin's Room, playing the sister of a newly diagnosed cancer patient (Diane Keaton). On the role, Streep commented: "it skirts a very fine line between real-felt tragedy and a purely comic sensibility. And I thought it would take too heavy a toll to do it"

  • Meryl Streep 1998

    The actress - now approaching her fifties - soon began to cherry pick her roles more carefully. In Dancing at Lughansa Streep got to reacquaint the world with her talent for mastering foreign accents - starring as an Irish schoolteacher living and working in Donegal

  • Meryl Streep 1998

    On September 16th 1998, Meryl Streep was finally awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The plaque was the 2,119th star to be unveiled on Hollywood Boulevard

  • Meryl Streep 2002

    Streep went from a quiet nineties to a booming period of productivity. One of her first projects of the noughties was playing a modern-day Mrs Dalloway in the film adaptation of The Hours. Co-starring Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, Streep was nominated for a BAFTA. Golden Globe and Sierra Award for her role

  • Meryl Streep 2003

    Streep adeptly moved from the big-screen to the small, taking on a part in the critically acclaimed HBO tv-series Angels in America. Playing Ethel Rosenberg, the fantasy drama centered around the AIDS crisis in the mid-eighties and won Streep her first Emmy for "Outstanding Actress in a miniseries or movie"

  • Meryl Streep 2003

    And the awards kept coming. In the same year, the actress was awarded the prestigious Order of Letters and Arts in Paris, one of the nation's highest honours. Previous recipients included T.S Eliot and Bob Dylan

  • Meryl Streep 2003

    To top off the year, she received another Golden Globe in 2003 for her turn in Angels in America. To date, Streep is one of the most feted actors in Hollywood having been nominated for an Academy Award a staggering 16 times and winning an Oscar twice

  • Meryl Streep 2004

    Although Streep has managed to keep her personal life away from the prying media, in 2004 film The Manchurian Candidate she focuses on slippery family morals, playing the mother of an ex-war hero and vice presidential candidate

  • Meryl Streep 2004

    In the same year, Streep expanded into children's cinema, playing a smaller role in the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events opposite comedy hero Jim Carey

  • Meryl Streep 2004

    With a film career now spanning over thirty years, Streep was decorated with an American Film Institute Lifetime Acheivement award. On the award, she commented: "I don't want to spit in the eye of good fortune, but it was weird. I felt like I'd butted in line in front of Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn. Hello? How did this happen? I was only the sixth woman to receive it, but they found 26 men to give it to. I thought that was embarrassing. "

  • Meryl Streep 2005

    In another comedic turn, she played a psychotherapist in Prime who discovers one of her patients is dating her own son. The film also featured Brian Greenberg and Uma Thurman - who often held Streep up as a role model throughout her own acting career

  • Meryl Streep 2006

    Streep would soon woo her critics again for her performance in The Devil Wears Prada as the cold-hearted editrix Miranda Priestley. Said to be based on Anna Wintour, the role also garnered the actress a new generation of fans and her 12th Oscar nomination

  • Meryl Streep 2007

    Never one to rest on her laurels, Streep swiftly followed this up with Rendition - a tense thriller with an all-star cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon

  • Meryl Streep 2008

    Mamma Mia! hit screens in 2008 and was film adaptation of the West End musical. Many critics believed that the film-cum-musical would bomb at the box office, but thanks to yet another great performance by Streep and co-stars (a singing Pierce Brosnan anyone?) it became an unlikely hit of the year

  • Meryl Streep 2008

    In a stark contrast the upbeat nature of Mamma Mia, Doubt focuses on a troubled Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. The dark story demonstrated the actress' range yet again by playing the iron-gloved Principal of the school

  • Meryl Streep 2009

    But the dark-side would not hold the actress for long as she soon played star chef Julia Childs in Julie&Julia. In a world saturated with digital media and electronic books, the film hearkened back to the golden era of cooking where Childs learnt and perfected her craft in Paris. Streep's performance was both heart-warming and spot on in terms of historical accuracy

  • Meryl Streep 2009

    In what would be her third foray into the world of children's cinema, the actress provided the voice for Mrs Fox in the animation film Fantastic Mr Fox

  • Meryl Streep 2009

    In It's Complicated Streep played an divorcee who inadvertently rekindles a relationship with her ex-husband. The maturity of both Streep and Baldwin made for an unusual romantic comedy, but Streep argued that it came at an important point in her life: "My daughters had helped me to stop worrying about my appearance over the years. I wasted so many years thinking I wasn't pretty enough and why didn't I have Jessica Lange's body or someone else's legs? What a waste of time"

  • Meryl Streep 2010

    Streep continued her philanthropic work throughout her acting career (seen here at the UN 'Women Can't Wait' event in New York). In addition to standing as the a national spokesperson for the National Women's Museum, the actress has also champion women's rights through the charity Equality Now and works closely with the Reeve Foundation, an organisation that helps people with spinal cord injuries

  • Meryl Streep 2011

    To celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Kennedy Center in Washington, Meryl was one of the recipients of the 2011 Kennedy Center Honours. Center Chairman David Rubenstein said, "The sheer brilliance and breadth of Meryl Streep’s performances count as one of the most exhilarating cultural spectacles of our time."

    Streep is pictured here with fellow recipients Barbara Cook, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Pollins and Hilary Clinton

  • Meryl Streep 2011

    Out on general release from January 2012, Streep tackles one of her most challenging roles to date, playing iconic Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Streep described the opportunity as "one of those rare, rare films where I was grateful to be an actor and grateful for the privilege of being able to look at a life deeply with empathy"