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Saturday, January 7, 2012

It’s a funny old world

I’m just back from seeing “The Iron Lady”. Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” is one of the most outstanding pieces of acting I’ve seen in a long time. Its an indictment of Hollywood that good roles for middle aged female actors are few and far between. “The Iron Lady” is a UK production and from the moment Thatcher slips her minder to go to buy milk and a newspaper in her local corner shop and as she stands unnoticed rummaging for her purse in her famous handbag with stooped frame and her blonde hair covered in a head scarf, Meryl Streep has you in the palm of her age wearied hand. She has the voice, the mannerisms, the sense of moral righteousness that Thatcher had in her day. Make up do a wonderful job at ageing Streep to look like an 80 year old Thatcher

If you are looking for a polemic on her reconstruction of the UK you won’t get one in the film. The relationship between Thatcher and Heath, Thatcher and Scargill or Thatcher and Reagan are not examined. There are a few historical inaccuracies but the bones of what made her the person she is are there exposed subtly for all to see. When Thatcher is asked by her neurologist has she ever been delusional , I smiled. When the father she idolised set out his view of inequity being a motivator, I remembered the PD’s. Other than the assassination of Airey Neave and the Brighton bombing, Ireland is by and large ignored. Her rise through the Tory Party, the 1983 and 1987 General Elections, Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, Anglo Irish Agreement, the invasions of Grenada or Kuwait, the squandering of North Sea oil money all are not mentioned.

Where the film really scores is the strong sense that no matter how powerful or wealthy a person is we all rely on those around us. Thatcher is portrayed as lonely, missing her late husband, visited now and again by her only daughter, and getting a phone call now and again from her son in his new life in Africa, feeling disconnected from present day events and seeing everything in a knee jerk 1980’s response. Every person that she relies on is paid to do that work, personal assistants to organise hospital appointments, book sellers to bring her copies of her book to sign, police, doctors, you name it. Nothing done out of love for her. In this there is a much deeper moral than the winning or losing of an argument. Her famous quote “there is no such thing as society” is never mentioned, it doesn’t have to be. The entire film effectively sets out the type of relationships that exist where there is no society and there is a price on everything and it’s not a particularly nice place to be, no matter how many millions you make off a book.

Ultimately this is a film about the failure of Thatcher. Physically ageing, no longer self confident, nobody other than herself to talk to, her Britain no longer great but once more in social turmoil as the country sets it self aside from Europe, no longer a leader in world opinion, it’s once proud industrial base that led the world now sadly gone. Thatcherism failed because it elevated the market place and profit above all else. It inspired the Neo Liberal agenda so beloved of the multi nationals and moneymen. Loyalty to a community was not just anathema to Thatcher, it was ironically and ultimately her undoing as Tory MP’s in her final hours told her to her face that while they were happy to support her, they feared that other wouldn’t. Thence John Major’s more conciliatory and caring brand of Tory that packed her off to the back benches and stole the 1992 general election, but that’s another story.

Go and see Meryl Streep, you won’t see better all year.

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