No go on the ‘Iron Lady’ — Postrel
Boy, this is disappointing, but I’m glad Virginia Postrel saved me the cost of a ticket to the Maggie Thatcher biopic, “The Iron Lady.” From her indignant review:
It skips a lot of things. In the entire movie, there is only one policy discussion, with U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig about the Falkland Islands, that might be called an argument rather than a slogan. The Iron Lady never explains the coal miners strike or mentions the raging controversy over stationing U.S. nuclear cruise missiles in Britain. It doesn’t include Thatcher’s assessment that Mikhail Gorbachev was “a man I can do business with” or show her delivering her 1984 party congress speech only hours after being bombed out of her Brighton hotel — a potentially riveting scene. It doesn’t include the famous lines “the lady’s not for turning,” “there is no alternative,” or “there is no such thing as society.” It never explains how she won three general elections.
A two-hour film obviously can’t include everything. But this movie’s choices all tend toward a consistent end. They drain the content out of Thatcher’s public role, making it little more than a vehicle for her ambition, while embellishing her private life to portray her husband and daughter as justifiably resentful and her old age as haunted by regret. (Her son, Mark, stays out of this picture.) You would never know that Carol describes her parents’ marriage as “truly a meeting of minds” or that she depicts her mother with great affection as a “superwoman” who crafted elaborate cakes for her children’s birthdays, faithfully attended school parents’ nights and took her kids to enjoy the pageantry of the opening of Parliament.
Virginia says that no male leader would be portrayed the way “The Iron Lady” treats Thatcher:
In the days of the old Hollywood Code, female characters were inevitably punished if they strayed from traditional sexual mores. Today, female characters (and many men as well) must suffer if they violate a different, unwritten code. This new code declares that one’s worth depends on personal relationships, not public actions, and that sacrificing family time for the sake of achievement is nothing but short-sighted selfishness. Hollywood enforces the Gospel According to Anna Quindlen.
What matters, then, is not the nature of Thatcher’s policies, or even the quality of her real-world family relations. It’s that she dared to forge her identity in public, through what she did rather than what people she cared about, and that she did it very well. For that unseemly daring, we must see her suffer.
The problem with Margaret Thatcher, one assumes (from the filmmakers’ point of view) is that she was a successful conservative politician. If she had been a Labour leader, is there any doubt that “The Iron Lady” would take a different line on her? If Virginia’s description is correct, then the film’s view of its central character is startlingly old-fashioned. Again, is it really conceivable that a liberal woman prime minister would be portrayed in this way? To be sure, I’m not saying that Thatcher ought necessarily to be lionized. Perhaps she was a badly flawed figure in private (though Virginia points out the film takes unjust liberties with the truth on this point). But is that really what’s most important about her? Is that really what we need to remember about her? Would the first Churchill biopic be doing justice to its subject by dwelling on the fact that he was a drunk and perhaps disagreeable in private?
Maybe I’ll still see “The Iron Lady,” but leaving aside the personal politics of the thing, I cannot imagine wanting to see a Thatcher biopic that doesn’t put the weight of its dramatics on her public life, which was so dramatic and consequential.