Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady based on Margaret Thatcher is a touching reminiscence about a tenacious woman’s relation to her loyal husband and family, from whom she feared she had been too distant as a result of her overwhelming political ambition. There is plenty the movie – well worth seeing – does well, and plenty it does not (review here).
Granted, the movie is a biopic, a portrait of a person, not an era. That said, more could have been made about her cabinet, about her relationship to the queen, about Europe, about the Soviet Union, about Reagan, and about a host of other relationships and conflicts that featured in her lengthy tenure as prime minister of the United Kingdom.
But what cannot be granted is that the movie is intended as a depiction of Thatcher, and not Thatcherism; yet to take the latter out of the former is to reduce her life to the story of a determined, perhaps ruthless, politician, albeit one who was uniquely successful. That may be entertaining, but it is not edifying. Nor is it fair.
The Thatcher character herself declares: ‘‘It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone,’’ and yet we see so little of that ‘‘something.’’ Given the movie (justifiably) takes dramatic license with the historical record, it is regrettable that it omitted, for instance, the story of a Tory Party meeting where Thatcher, as the new party leader, slammed on the table a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and announced, “This is what we believe!” And that it does not reference that it was the Soviet media which dubbed her the “Iron Lady” because of her unfaltering opposition to Communism.
Perhaps it should not come as surprising, though, that a movie from Harvey Weinstein would choose to downplay Thatcher’s ideas and vision for her country–a prosperous Britain at home, built on small businesses and free from excessive government and from the trade union stranglehold that had choked the country through the 1970s, and a strong and unafraid Britain abroad. But in portraying her as little more than a yuppie pioneer – concerned predominantly with her own professional advancement – one wonders if the moviemakers sought not merely to downplay her ideas, but indeed to discredit them.
And yet it is about precisely these ideas of free enterprise at home and principled action abroad that this coming presidential election will be fought, and the moviemakers’ effort to marginalize those ideas may betray their recognition that, thanks to the leadership of, among others, the iron lady, they still have the same force today as they did then.