“Iron Lady” is the story of the
doddering years of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great
Britain. Her political success is
told as a series of flashbacks, as an old woman would remember her younger
years-----something would trip her memory, and she would return to a time
more vivid, more exhilarating, more…..alive.
And then someone solicitous would come into the room and say
something mundane or innocuous, and the vivacious moment would be gone.
And we’d be back to dotage again, unable to remember where we put
our pearl necklace. Complaining
about the high price of a bottle of milk at the corner grocery.
Wondering why the kids rarely come to visit.
Meryl Streep is wondrous in this
role. She can so effectively
portray a teetering, hesitant old lay that we wonder if that’s really
her. Thankfully, she did not
attempt to portray her character as a young girl, or a college student, or
a very young politician, first running for office.
You can play into infirm and elderly, but you can’t fake youth.
Margaret Robinson grew up during the
Blitz---the German bombing of
, in the early days of World War Two, when Hitler’s Luftwaffe enjoyed
air superiority, and a land invasion of
was seriously contemplated by both sides. Once,
little Margaret ran upstairs after the bombing had started in order to
make sure the butter was covered, a silly risk, in retrospect.
But eventually the War turned, and the grocer’s daughter finds
herself with an invitation to attend
, which she happily accepts. According
to her retrospective memory, her father said only, “Make me proud,”
and her mother didn’t respond at all.
Politically, Margaret was always a
conservative. She first ran for
Parliament in 1950, when it was unheard of for a woman to succeed in the
“man’s world” of politics. She
was told that she would be more electable if she were married and had
children. So she accepted the
standing proposal of old friend Dennis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent), who
adored her, with the proviso that he would never stand in her way when it
came to her strongly-held convictions or her political career.
He said he wouldn’t have it any other way, and he was, for the
rest of his life, her companion and helpmate.
She had twins, a boy and a girl, and was finally elected in 1959,
and prepared herself for battling every day with the rowdy boys’ brawl
that was the House of Commons, with the constant give-and-take, the public
rhetoric, the private maneuvering, the perpetual fray of public office.
But she wouldn’t have it any other way, either.
She said she didn’t want to die washing a teacup at the kitchen
sink. She wanted to live a life
We aren’t told, really, why it was
that Margaret Thatcher was so successful as a politician.
Maybe she didn’t really know herself.
Maybe she was the compromise candidate that no one could object to,
and whom everyone wanted to take the heat, because the opposition
couldn’t afford to appear to be “beating up” on her.
We don’t see the backroom deals and the rigors of a national
political campaign---as if those have faded into memory---but we do see
the climactic moment when she decided she wanted to lead the party, which
then became the springboard to being Prime Minister.
We aren’t told, either, much about
her actual accomplishments as the first female P.M. in
’s history----as if those receded from memory, as well, or fade into the
insignificance of an already-obscure historical context.
But she remembers how her children faded from her life.
And how the criticism was carping and constant.
(Duh, she’s in politics.) And how she couldn’t ride in the back
of her limousine without being accosted by angry, jeering detractors
peering through her window, but she remained unperturbed, as if nothing
could really shake her convictions. Want
the economy to improve? Balance the
budget, and don’t’ spend what you don’t have.
Jobs, not handouts. Tax
everyone equally. And when they
take something from you, as they did in the
, why, take it back. It was
reportedly the Russians who affectionately dubbed her “The Iron Lady.”
But her famed bulldog persistence
eventually turned her obdurate and intractable.
She began fussing at her esteemed Cabinet members like truant
school children, and eventually the always-lurking old boys’ network
found someone marketable to defeat her. She
retired to a quiet apartment, where her primary companion was the
always-affable, self-effacing, domesticated Dennis.
Even after he died, she continued conversing with him, because he
still seemed so real to her: asking
about a crossword puzzle, discussing current events, drinking tea in the
afternoons. Nobody really
understood how much he always meant to her, even though he was never a
“The Iron Lady” is difficult to
love because she’s so stiff and reserved and high-principled, which
comes across as merely aloof and haughty. But
she remains a fascinating character, even here in her dotage.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim
Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,