Saturday, February 25, 2012

Margaret Thatcher: "The Iron Lady"

The other day I went to see The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  (I decided to skip the popcorn as an act of forbearance I feel Margaret Thatcher would approve of.) It goes without saying that Streep deserves the Oscar for her performance, especially for her portrayal of the elderly Thatcher remembering her past life while interacting with her dead husband Dennis played by Jim Broadbent. There was absolutely no recognizable trace of Streep as the former Prime Minister struggling to retain her memories as she slowly and inevitably loses her battle with Alzheimer's. The movie's makeup artist shares a great deal of the credit for Streep's performance and deserves an Oscar as well. Streep's portrayal of Thatcher in her years as Prime Minister is impressive, but she does not quite disappear as well into that part of the role. She has the voice, but she does not look like what Thatcher looked like then.   Thatcher's iron determination to advance her conservative ideology carried the day against her Labor Party opponents as well as the weak, dry as Melba toast colleagues in her own party. Only someone as determined as she could have overcome the opposition to her, opposition to her rooted in the dislike of women in government and rooted in class snobbery as she was a grocer's daughter. There is a great scene that takes place during the Falklands war where U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig treats Thatcher condescendingly; after she takes him down more than a few pegs, she offers to pour him tea or coffee saying,"Now, shall I play mother?" I would have to see the movie again to decide whether her political beliefs were treated fairly. Admiration for Thatcher could cause one to overlook criticism of her in the film. One critic claimed that the movie showed her to be lacking in intellect. The film shows her to be what she was, not an original thinker, but one who has absorbed the best thinking of the past and knows what is valuable to preserve against current political and social mantras. One interesting observation from Thatcher which comes out in the film is that today people are more interested in being than in doing. That reflects her interest in ideas; the value ideas had for Thatcher was in their usefulness for the betterment of others. Of course this is a work of fiction. Yet Streep's portrayal captures an important truth that is probably true in Thatcher's own life. Streep's Thatcher is one who so lived her life that she was still able to respond to her decline with strength and dignity. While sorry for her decline, I could not but be inspired in the way she faced it. Life is really a preparation for death. The onscreen Thatcher, inspired by her father, among others, lived hers so as to face death with courage. I think that is probably true of the real life Margaret Thatcher.

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