Thatcher film relives glory days, sets fashion trend
A woman for her times may become that again for the troubled modern era with Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (Boxing Day release)..
The film deserves its wide praise, which has not just from film critics but also political personalities such as Judith Collins in the NBR, through to biographer Charles Moore (Wall Street Journal) and fashion writer Justine Picardie in the Daily Telegraph.
Moore, who knows the real Thatcher extremely well, correctly assesses the film’s likely impact on today’s audiences, who are all too familiar with colourless or disappointing political leadership in recent years.
It helps explain why, in these hard times, she and her legacy arouse even more interest than they did in the boom era at the end of the 20th century.
Moore goes to discuss the film’s title, which arose from a description by the Soviet Red Army newspaper Red Star after she gave some strongly anti-communist speeches.
For a woman to be so attacked proved that she had graduated, before she had even become prime minister, into world politics. So she put on her prettiest (red) gown and made a speech embracing her new title. She has been the Iron Lady ever since.
More importantly, in today’s times of the eurozone meltdown and high government deficits, Thatcher had a simple view of money and politics, which she followed with startling success..
She preached that a household – and, most particularly, the woman who runs its weekly budget – knows that you cannot ultimately spend more than you earn and that you must "provide for a rainy day."
The same mythical housewife, Mrs Thatcher asserted, also knows that if you do not provide you cannot be certain that anyone else will. Living beyond your means leads to dependency instead of independence, and dependency leads to degradation.
These values are strongly asserted in the film, though the politics are impressively compressed, some to a few but highly effective scenes. These are mainly between her and her ministers, particularly Geoffrey Howe, who eventually broke with her over Europe and sparked her downfall.
In retrospect, as Moore says, the eurozone’s current problems partly lie in causes she identified at the time, notably the centralised bureaucracy – "The day of the artificially constructed megastate is gone,” she said.
The Thatcher 'look'
Picardie’s summation is equally interesting for her prediction The Iron Lady will become fashion trendsetter.
She mentions the scenes where the Thatcher’s image and speech are given a makeover, dropping the hats (but keeping the pearls) and softening the strident voice.
This was after her promotion to Education Secretary and positioned her to make the bid to become Britain’s first (and only) woman prime minister in 1979.
Over the years the Thatcher " look" evolved into bold power suits with white piping on darker colours, which were almost entirely blue – until she wore red (“not Labour red,” Edwina Currie says) on her departure from Downing St a decade later in 1990.
Reviled and admired with equal ferocity, she had added Boadicea to her repertoire, her weapons a handbag, and a retinue of male ministers, who apparently lurched between lust and loathing.
Yes, this is a highly watchable film, and not just for Meryl Streep’s performance.
Baroness Thatcher as she became, was dedicated to making a difference and not wanting to die having just washed teacups all her life. But unlike Superwoman, her film biography is book-ended by scenes of an ailing, vulnerable old lady given to memory loss and hallucinations.
At first this appears cruel and unnecessary; old age is no crime and comes to most people.
The Thatcher legacy
Her legacy is that she overcame huge government deficits, high inflation, low growth and militant unions. Within a few years of becoming prime minister, inflation fell from 27% to 2.5%, failing state businesses were sold off or closed and strikes became minimal.
She survives an IRA bombing, wages a successful conflict to recover the Falklands and helps to win Cold War against communism.
Though she won three elections and loss none, Thatcher’s end comes suddenly when faced with a cabinet revolt. She is bitter and feels betrayed, emotions that live on in the film’s final scene where she is content to wash her own dishes.