Thursday, 12 January 2012
'The Iron Lady': pity or politics?
So I went to see 'The Iron Lady', about Mrs Thatcher's rise to power and later life (above). Enormously enjoyable it was, too.
Now, I'm no fan of The Lady's policies - as any regular reader of this blog will know. There were some good elements, for instance the privatisation of service industries that ought never to have been so frail as to have been taken under the state's wing in the first place (British Airways or British Telecom spring to mind). But in general it was a harsh and strident age of division and of futile attempts to 'cure' inflation with medicine that killed the patient - Britain's manufacturing industry.
And there's no way that I hanker after Mrs Thatcher's peculiar brand of 'strong' leadership. Give me the hesitancy and the halting, limited vistas of a Cameron, a Clegg or a Miliband any day. It's far less frightening.
But. But. But.
As Mark Kermode has pointed out, this is not a biopic - it's a life seen in flashback, as remembered by a frail old lady with dementia. As such, and as a writer who's had a close member of my own family succumb to the disease, it is a stunning and emotional evocation of a standing fact that's going to confront us every single day for the next few decades as the population ages.
As such, it's an excellent and a moving portrayal of a cruel disease - not only notable for Streep's extraordinary and jaw-dropping turn as Mrs T herself, but also for the uncanny way in which (for instance) Anthony Stewart Head captures Geoffrey Howe.
Critics who look at this film askance for its dodgy politics and its dodgy history are missing the point. Now, reader, I'm the first one to tut when the history's wrong. It's my livelihood, my bread and butter, my every thought (during working hours). And this one runs together the oil crisis of 1973 with Labour's battles with the trade unions during the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79 (witness the scene where bins are piled up outside the Cabinet Office). It paints Conservative Ministers of the 1980s as a bunch of weak, lily-livered ciphers who tried to hold The Lady back. Heseltine? Howe? Hurd? These Ministers would be Secretaries of State today and in any other period. They were hardly shrinking violets.
But those reviewers who've taken a purely political look at this - pro, too, but mainly con - have got it wrong. They lack the wider vision, the broader sympathy, the sense of the human that the film captures.
As Peter Ustinov once put it, they need to add a dash of pity.