David Calling

The Iron Lady

How the media hated Mrs. Thatcher! A very British snobbery was the basic impulse. The op-eds used to make sure to remind readers that her views about politics and economics derived from her upbringing as the daughter of a grocer. A blue-stocking by the name of Lady Warnock, foremost among the great and the good, once said seriously that Mrs. Thatcher couldn’t be up to much because she bought her clothes at popular stores like Marks and Spencer, while others accused her of wearing a hat and a brooch as though imitating the Queen. And her accent was much mocked. Why, she took elocution lessons. I well remember the disdain with which fellow Conservatives up to the level of her Cabinet ministers used to speak about her. In the end, they contrived to get her out, and in the process wrecked their party.

Mrs. Thatcher has been out of office for years now. A widow, whenever she appears in public she looks frail and vulnerable. Roman emperors used to have a slave behind them whispering, “Remember you must die.” That is the spirit infusing today’s much-touted docudrama, The Iron Lady. The film opens with Meryl Streep impersonating Mrs. Thatcher as a sad old crone having trouble taking the top off a boiled egg. This is a metaphor for her whole life. Yes, the film-makers allow, she had her triumphs in her day, privatizing state concerns, making Britain competitive, regaining the independence of the Falkland Islands, but all was futile, a waste of energy. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity, this Mrs. Thatcher is at last revealed as someone with no grasp of reality, hallucinating about her dead husband Denis Thatcher. The film reaches some sort of emotional climax when she throws his wardrobe out, a scene surely as fictitious as it is displeasing.

I suppose it makes some people feel better to think that old age has caught up with Mrs. Thatcher and overwhelmed her. The film convinced me that as long as there is any living memory of her, such people will always believe that intelligence and will power were qualities unsuitable in a woman like her.


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