It’s been several days since I watched The Iron Lady, and I’m still thinking about it obsessively. Initially, I was not terribly impressed but the movie is sticking with me in extraordinary ways. I have a burning desire to see it again and suspect that much like The Queen subsequent viewings will only make me appreciate it more.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the trailers, it is a bio-pic about Margaret Thatcher that has raised some controversy in recent months both for its decision to air prior to the former Prime Minister’s death and its choice of including so much of her current dementia in the story. At first, I was a tad bit shocked by that, but in retrospect it serves as a reminder to us that everyone gets old, and that we are all fallible and human, even someone as remarkable as Margaret Thatcher. (Also, it is driving the liberal critics nuts, because as one of them put it, “trying to hate on this woman is rather like punching your grandmother in the face.” Ha, ha, score.)
Both as a woman and as a conservative, Margaret Thatcher has always been one of the great icons in me to history of what women can accomplish when they set their minds to it, and in that regard the film is quite good. We see a young, frightened Margaret in a sky-blue dress sweeping into an impressive drawing room and impressing all the men in attendance, if not arguing with them that their policies are outdated and absurd. (This is also where she meets her absolutely fabulous husband, who proposes to her over fish and chips.) We see the old Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband (and constantly forgetting about it)… and we see the powerhouse Margaret who decided one day to run for Prime Minister not because she thought she could win but to “shake the party up.” This Margaret ends conversations with blunt, sharp dismissals and winds up crumpled on the pavement screaming when one of her dearest friends goes up in an IRA terrorist bombing.
Where the film wavers is in its narrative – the constant back and forth between old and younger Margaret is tiresome in the first half, although by the second we have become accustomed to it. Frankly, I was disappointed that we did not spend more time with her as a Prime Minister – just enough to really make me yearn for more, enough that when I got home the first thing I did was order her autobiography. BUT… Meryl Streep turns in an amazing performance, in a movie about an amazing woman. I honestly think she won her Golden Globe the other night (and may go on to win an Oscar) for one particular moment, in which Margaret has just denounced her entire cabinet to their faces for their cowardice in choosing to be reelected rather than do what is right for England. She keeps her calm even though she is livid and then dismisses them all from the room – and in the minute that follows when she is certain all of them are gone, the real Margaret emerges… a woman who is shaking with fear and anger, whose face undergoes such a transformation as her “strength” subsides that we all breathe a collective sigh of empathy, since we’ve all been there, and didn’t handle it nearly as well as she did. I adored her long before that moment, but that was pretty much the instant my little ultra-conservative feminist heart breathed, “YES.”
I’m not sure what I keep returning to, if it is sheer admiration for the woman who stood by her convictions even though they were unpopular and did an immense amount for her country, or if it is the fact that Margaret was not a powerful woman, she was just a woman. She was intimidated, but never let them see it. She was scared, but it never showed. Her courage came from her convictions and her belief in doing something for her country. There is one poignant moment in the film where she says, “It used to be about what you can do, now it is about who you can become.” I carried that with me into the Republican debates that night and it opened my eyes, it made me wonder which one of those five men wants to sacrifice their lives and reputations for this country, and which one just wants to become famous and powerful.
You and I cannot allow fear to stop us from doing what we are meant to do. It is not about what we become or who we are meant to be, but what we can accomplish, how we can sacrifice to make our world a better place. Like JFK said, it not about “what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The entire mess we are in right now as a nation is because we have reversed that philosophy; instead of serving, our public officials want to rule over us. And instead of pursuing what we can sacrifice to make America stronger, we’re dedicated to what we can get out of it for free. Margaret had to deal with that in England. She dealt with unions holding the entire nation hostage, flooding London streets with rank garbage; she dealt with riots and bombings and the loss of soldiers in England’s bid to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She did it because she was meant to, because God asked her to, because she knew it was the right thing to do and she didn’t care about her life or reputation, just about her country. And she is hated for it to this day, despised for it, but she is also deeply respected for it.
Margaret articulated well what I feel about conservative politics – it is a world in which everyone pays equal taxes for the privilege of being a member of that nation, in which we are all concerned how it turns out because it impacts all of us, in which there is no shame in being proud of working your way into success, and a world in which a grocer’s daughter can grow up to be the Prime Minister… just because she can.
God, please send us a Margaret Thatcher. Heaven knows we need her.
[For those interested in seeing it, the PG13 rating comes from footage of violence in London — bombs, riots, policeman beating back rioters, and so forth, as well as about a four second shot of a topless woman during media footage. That could have been left out, but what can you do?]