The press are in eager anticipation this morning, as The Iron Lady goes on general release today. It’ll be The King’s Speech of 2012. The movie of the year. You’ll simply have to see it and Meryl Streep will be simply fan-tas-tic. The performances will doubtless be flawless and the music will be rousing in that I’m-going-to-save-the-world-as-soon-as-I-leave-the-cinema sort of way. The film will take flack for being too glamorised or Hollywoodised or whateverised, but if an arthouse film was made about her career, how many people would watch it? It must appeal to the masses. And whatever the public take away from it, let’s hope they talk about it.
Yes, some might think it easier just to burn her from their minds, purge the memories of her formidable reign. But we shouldn’t forget her. Not least because she is the only female Prime Minister Britain has ever had; but because in all the ‘who-did-what-to-the-economy’ chat that’s being going on in Parliament over the last two years, I have found a distinct lack of conversation about Thatcher’s Britain and the ideologies she made mainstream. And we need to look beyond New Labour to the eighties because there, my friends, is where it all went wrong.
There are two periods in British History: Before Thatcher, and After Thatcher. Before, there was a sense of community, of duty to the country and pride in our welfare system. After, there was poll tax, job cuts, a cosy relationship with America and a free-market so great that to return to a socialist society, to narrow the gap between rich and poor, to enlighten and enrich the lives of British people is going to take much more than Ed Milliband whining from the bench. It is going to take a real alternative. And if the banks collapsing didn’t inspire this, I don’t think The Iron Lady will either.
So what will we learn from it? The Guardian Women’s Blog debated whether dear Maggie was a feminist icon or not. The Daily Mail and The Telegraph are promoting Dav Cam’s distress about it being made while she’s still alive (they’re running with the dementia line, easy avoidance of the politics and we can all unite in sympathy blah blah). Doesn’t he know that she has already been immortalised in song – Frank Turner’s Thatcher F***ed the Kids; on stage in Billy Elliot The Musical’s satirical Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher; on the poster that he dutifully hangs above his bed and kisses before he goes to sleep? Dav Cam: give it a rest. What are you so worried about?
I doubt that the film will manage enough gusto and polemic to really change anybody’s political views. Then again, I might be wrong. But what the film does have the power to do is take us back to a time where one woman completely altered how a whole society thought. Nobody has matched that since; Thatcher was a powerful politician. But she was a terrible leader. And yes, a lot of things that are wrong in this country are a result of some really destructive policies she put in place. If we start recognising that, it’ll be a good start.