Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Iron Lady in meltdown

The film is not intended to cover all the political events of Thatcher's life and it deals with the political issues through the incoherent rambling recollections of an old and demented Thatcher.

A first-class actor like Meryl Streep can make the most unpromising of villains appear to have a sympathetic side. And of course she does. As well as eliciting sympathy for Thatcher's declining years and mental instability, she also portrays her as a “woman in a man's world” striking a blow for women!

However there are many women – miners' wives, Argentine widows of war, the millions who stood up against the poll tax (and I could go on!) – who are not quite sure Thatcher was a crusader for women's rights. It is their story which is excluded here. She was a crusader for Margaret Hilda Thatcher. And if that meant trampling on men or women she was indifferent.

And what about Thatcher's less likeable abiding hatred of the working classes – the miners, the poll tax protestors and practically the whole city of Liverpool? That seems to have remained on the cutting room floor. She once told a friend only to hire a servant “who had patches on the knees of his trousers” - she liked the working classes well enough in their place. Down on their knees!

And the other missing area from the film - apart from the political omissions whose name is legion - is Thatcher's use of racism for electoral advantage. Echoing Enoch Powell she ranted about Britain being 'swamped by people of a different culture'. That's on the cutting room floor too.

Jim Broadbent's comic relief as the ghost of Denis Thatcher is a masterpiece. The only thing missing is the other side of this apparent jovial buffoon. Denis Thatcher made sure his business interests came to no harm as a result of his Downing Street connection - on one occasion complaining to Nicholas Edwards, the Secretary of State for Wales using Downing Street notepaper just to underline the connection.

One thing Meryl Streep did get off pat was Thatcher's style of delivery - one which makes sure nobody gets a word in edgeways. This applied most of all to her cabinet colleagues or "bastards" as she used to call them. And there is a chilling sense in the scenes of the Falklands conflict, when Thatcher orders the sinking of the Belgrano that this was a woman with a finger on the nuclear trigger. It is a wonder any of us lived to tell the tale.

Thatcher is famous. Her claim to fame is that she led one of the most hated governments of all time, certainly of the post-war period. Even that dubious honour is likely to be taken away from her by the ConDem coalition.

“Where there is discord let us bring harmony” intercut with scenes from the miners' strike and the anti-poll tax movement showing Thatcher's carte blanch to the police to use force is as good as it gets for an obituary of a figure who came to symbolise the Conservatives' heartless attitude. They don't talk about class war. They are too busy waging it.

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