I wanted to love the film, The Iron Lady. I knew that Merle Streep would be superb as Maggie Thatcher. She was spectacular; and I rarely use that word. Unfortunately, her great performance makes the film more problematic than had a lesser actor played the Prime Minister. Streep makes Thatcher adorable and lovable. Through at least half if not more of the movie, one wonders how the opposition to her atrocious policies would ultimately be presented. In brief decontextualized snippets, we see riots, rebellions, terrorism, and liberal opposition to her policies.
Then, most distressingly, the Falklands War was presented as a triumph for Thatcher. There was a sight intimation that the war was a disaster for a weakened economy and no hint that it was a nationalist cover for the Iron Lady’s shameful policy of sacrificing the poor and working class for the benefit of what we now call the 1%. Any hope that the movie would explain the fury behind the opposition to her vanished. We learn more about the impact of her hard work on her family life than we do of her policies’ impact on the poor and working class. We learn virtually nothing about Britain’s decline as an empire. Indeed, the ‘triumph’ in the Falklands made it seem as if Thatcher had restored the empire. Now, there’s a fantasy for you.
I suspect that the focus on what it means for a powerful woman to age will appeal to many of my fellow baby boomers. That’s a hard narrative to resist. And, if we know nothing about the increasing divide between the wealthy and the poor and the displacement of the British international supremacy with the American empire, the Thatcher story is simply about a bourgeois and narrow feminist triumph over a male dominated institution. And, as the coopted feminist narrative goes these days, the real cost of her achievements were to her children and husband.