The Iron Lady gives history a good handbagging

I could have written a blog post today about the exciting announcement regarding HS2 (in my view a worthy investment), or Ed Miliband’s speech about Labour being the party “for all times, not just bad times”, but instead I thought it would be much more fun to review the Iron Lady, out now in cinemas.

It’s a terrific irony that this film is funded by the UK Arts Council and National Lottery funding, not only because the former is being slashed by the Coalition’s Thatcherite scythe, but also because it would have been a more accurate representation of recent history if they had put 49 potential scenarios in the 1980s down on as many balls, and let Camelot or Guinevere decide the rest.

Seriously – Labour hat off – this was a noble attempt at capturing the spirit of one of Britain’s most prominent prime ministers; Meryl Streep’s impersonation of The Lady Who Was Not For Turning had me once or twice shivering in my seat, with her every mannerism and facial expression noted and re-enacted, along with that deep commanding voice the PR gurus told Mrs. Thatcher to adopt. Right up to the closing scenes, it displayed her dogged determination accurately, and managed to humanize her and generate sympathy towards her when she steadfastly refused to accept that her mind was beginning to unravel. Anyone who knows anything about Alzheimer’s, what it must be like to be elderly and lonely, and the denial of grief would appreciate this side of the film.

However, this was the problem: it could have been about any old lady looking back on her life and missing her husband (although this aspect was slightly unsettling and disturbing at times). The historical dimension to the film went beyond playing with history to deliver a message and artistic licence, almost to the point where you wondered if the film had been written by Tory publicists. The focus was entirely on Thatcher’s ‘Glorious’ moments and ‘triumphs’, mostly over men, for example her selection and early life, the Falklands war and the 1979 election. There was some fleeting real footage of the miner’s strike and the poll tax riots, and the entire period 1982 to 1990 was dealt with in approximately ninety seconds. At one point, I was appalled to see a shot of her dancing with Nelson Mandela. I expected it to focus primarily on her as an individual by the title, however there was not even a passing reference to the unemployment of the period, Thatcher’s response to the emergence of AIDS, the Westland affair, section 28, the clashes with the NUJ, Ken Livingstone and Liverpool Council…

This was not a documentary, and films are supposed to paint splashes of black and white over what was in reality only differing shades of grey. Even her deepest detractors have to admit that she had some leadership qualities (albeit perhaps without much idea of compromise), that she was – is – only human and was doing what she thought was right. However members of BULS who want to see this in the cinemas soon may find themselves wincing and cringing at many stages in this film.  

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