I makes no bones about it. I was a Thatcherite. I acknowledge that her track history is far from faultless. As Education Secretary she did not do enough to defend Grammar Schools, or academic selection (a system that gave her the opportunity to gain entry to Oxford and to subsequently climb the greasy pole). Her arrogance and obstinacy over the Community Charge/Poll Tax issue was flawed also. But Thatcher was unquestionably the greatest British Prime Minister of the last century. Indeed, I’d argue that she was greater than Churchill.
When the film-makers set out to make Iron Lady they did not necessarily want to make her appear great. Some say that the movie is more of a study of ageing and dementia.
However, they miss the point. What makes Thatcher remarkable was her leadership, not her dementia.
Thatcher was a remarkable leader – remarkable in that she was an exceptional woman in a male dominated political world. And remarkable in that she defined her leadership on the basis of her ideological passion. She also changed the United Kingdom (massively for the better, I would argue, but others might disagree).
Therefore the focus of the film on her dementia or ageing was overdone. Indeed, from a cinematic point of view, it became boring. The opening sequence drags on too long (with Carol and her helpers having muttered conversations about her not being “let out”) and the metaphor – of her constantly talking to a dead Dennis – becomes simply annoying. It becomes a dramatic device that grates.
Moreover the political narrative becomes a catalog – with none of her defining leadership characteristics explored in any real depth (because so much time is taken up with her clearing her husband’s wardrobes).
And what were those defining characteristics? Without question, the most important was her ability to lead on the basis of commitment to what she believed. She believed in the primacy of the individual. She believed in the requirement to lead based on legitimacy of argument rather than requirement for populism. And she understood the nation because she came from from it rather than hovered above it.