‘The Iron Lady’

Through The Eyes Of Lost Marbles

I don’t get the people who hero-worship Margaret Thatcher, I’m afraid. Okay, yes, I’m a leftie but I’m also decidedly not British. It shouldn’t matter to me; nonetheless there is this deep detestation for the Baroness Thatcher, for she is simply alienating. And I don’t blame the people who still want to spit on her name and are waiting for her to die so they can go desecrate her grave. Such deep resentments and hatreds and grudges tell me that with her, the cons far outweighed the pros.

So… what to make of a film about her time in politics?

What’s Good About It

Meryl Streep. It begins and ends with Meryl Streep.

What’s Bad About It

The whole darn film is built around the reminiscence of a Margaret Thatcher who has lost her marbles. The bits where we watch her dawdling about and being an Alzheimer patient are actually pretty boring. her hallucinations of Denis who is dead, are pretty boring and offer very little in terms of information. If you like to know what the world of a alzheimer patient looks like, this film may or may not be your cup of tea.  However, as biopics go, it’s light on information. As a film that’s about a state of a mind in decay, you wonder if it had to be about Margaret Thatcher.

Also, the blending of the historic footage and the drama is badly done. They just don’t match. As a result, all those scenes of bombs and riots are even more tragic today than then.

The tone is pompous, the pace is all over the place, you never feel settled in to the story, and we all know what the story was so there’s really nothing new or exciting in this film. It offers very little insight into Thatcher or her marriage to Denis Thatcher. Oddly enough, we’re not that curious about it, so it doesn’t register as too big a problem; but it is. We don’t exactly know more of her after the film – it is more that we’re reminded of her and her place in history.

I felt very sorry for the Gen-Xers in the UK who grew up with her as their Prime Minister. The 1980s were a major drag.

What’s Interesting About It

People on the right probably think this film is a character assassination of sorts, but as a centre-left kind of guy this film strikes me as Right-ist Hagiography. Even in her best moments, you can’t but think of Margaret Thatcher as this eternal ideological warrior, and it sickens you to the pit of your stomach. She’s not even nice to her family in this film which is neither here nor there – her daughter has denounced the film, but I would too if I were portrayed by Sophie from the Peep Show. Nothing against the actress, but hey, have you watched the Peep Show?

Anyway. It’s probably not a film that’s going to tick too many people’s ideological boxes.

Thatcher As Narcissist

It goes without saying that many of the people who attain great success and high station in life have a very different view of themselves to what we might consider ordinary people. One of the things I’ve grown a distaste for is meeting successful people and getting a whiff of their positive self-regard. In most instances, it comes across as this awful kind of vanity. It’s easy to imagine this positive self-regard is comically out of kilter with Margaret Thatcher, but the problem with the Streep portrayal is that it makes this seem like a virtue.

What gets her to the top, in this movie and in real life was her total rejection of any compromise. And for some reason this allowed her to be the successful Conservative politician that she became – but! and here’s the thing – she’s basically an inflexible, uncompromising extremist. the whole persona as well as career was built on “good enough for me is good enough for you.” She carves out a rhetorical position that feigns empathy, but she just wants it all her way, or it’s the highway.

In some ways, she’s progressive, making a case for a place for women in politics against these conservative men. Yet she didn’t extend this charity to women on the other side of the House – which underscores her own sense of exceptionalism. the progressive idea of women having a place in politics applies to her more than it applies to other women.

Her highest tone rhetoric sounds fine and dandy, but wasn’t she just a big bully and apologist for the ancien regime of the UK? So regardless of her personal story of overcoming sexism in the conservatives to rise to the top, isn’t it futile for Meryl Streep to be sugarcoating one of history’s big bullies?

Austerity, Riots, Smashing Unions

As I was watching the historic footage, it occurred to me that those riots were a result of Thatcher running her own ‘austerity’ program as soon as she came to power. It reminded me an awful lot of Greece, which is undergoing some immense financial difficulties. Still, Thatcher came to power when inflation was running at 18%. If we are to be fair we have to give her her due.

It makes you think you need a kind of Thatcher to smash through one set of vested interests. It’s not as if Tony Blair or Gordon Brown ever turned the tables on the vested interests for the rich end of town. If anything, it reminds us of John Howard and his Work Choices legislation aimed at breaking union power in Australia; which presumably was modeled on Thatcher’s time as Prime Minster because he certainly jumped to it quickly as soon as he got majority in the Senate.

In the context of the post GFC churn of bailouts and austerity measures that constantly seem to need more remedies, Thatcher might have thundered no to the bail outs even if it hurt her own party with her own constituents. It’s hard to imagine her not reaching for the heaviest austerity measures. She would have been far more divisive than David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

North Sea Oil, Not Policy

The big myth of Thatcher and Thatcherism might be that all that cutting and confrontation and shutting down of mines and breaking unions and fighting for a Poll Tax made the UK better through the 1980s, but it’s not really the full story. The greater contributor was the discovery of oil in the North Sea – which was taxed at 90% – that contributed to the coffers of the state, and allowed the UK to come out of its epoch of ‘Stag-flation’. Now there’s a lesson for Julia Gillard right there: Gillard shouldn’t be scared of taxing the miners as hard as she can.

In any case, Margaret Thatcher was the beneficiary of good luck more than most Prime Minsters of the Twentieth century in the UK; but it’s also true that it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.

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