x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Iron Lady: A premature assessment of Margaret Thatcher?

It is relatively easy to figure out why filmmakers would appropriate such a life, but harder to explain the continuing fascination with the finer details of her public and private life.

She was, to use the expression coined by one of her successors, "a conviction politician" who was despised and lionised in equal measure during her years in power. She was, at least in the words of a forthcoming movie, "the outsider who fought her way in ... the rebel who never backed down". She is, of course, Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, who is the subject of a new biopic starring Meryl Streep. The film, The Iron Lady, is released today in the UK and will premiere in the UAE next month.

It is expected to be big at the box- office, particularly in Britain, where the film has stirred the always simmering broth of Thatcher's government years, especially as that nation's past resonates so clearly in its present. Indeed, the Great Britain of today and of a generation ago - Thatcher swept to power in 1979 - bear strong similarities. It is now, as it was then, isolated in Europe and facing an uncertain future.

Thatcher's first years in government were largely unsuccessful - unemployment continued to rise and the British economy stagnated, just as it is doing today under David Cameron's stewardship - until her premiership was galvanised and largely defined by the Falklands War, whose 30th anniversary is marked later this year. This bloody but ultimately successful military expedition provides one of the key episodes in The Iron Lady and arguably did most to develop the concept of her as a politician of unflinching will.

It is relatively easy to figure out why filmmakers would appropriate such a life and run it through the Hollywood dream factory - she was, as myth would have it, only a grocer's daughter who rose to the top of the political ladder - but harder to explain the continuing fascination with the finer details of her public and private life.

A new tranche of classified British government documents emerged last week and show Mrs Thatcher quibbling in 1979 over the cost of refurbishing her official residence.

She is revealed in these papers to have offered to pay for her own ironing board to save placing undue stress on government coffers during a time of economic hardship. The incident has been used by some to illustrate her unstinting eye for detail and has drawn comparisons with the current PM who has undertaken (at not inconsiderable cost to the public purse, but entirely within his entitled allowances) a wholesale refurbishment of his official residence in Downing Street.

The inference here is that Thatcher was the real deal, a politician who lived and breathed her principles, while Cameron is a tough talker, but somehow soft of the belly.

Another episode is altogether more spiteful. Mrs Thatcher, 86, was reported by one British newspaper to have spent her Christmas quietly with her carer, seemingly abandoned by her son Mark and daughter Carol, who were holidaying in Barbados and Italy respectively. Mrs Thatcher is rumoured to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease - her daughter has referred previously to her mother's frequent and severe memory lapses - a condition that descends like a curse on all those who are struck by it. The Thatcher twins are many things, as the regular reports of their private lives will testify, but one suspects they are nothing less than devoted to their mother, even if they choose to spend their holidays away from her.

More importantly, in the middle of this domestic drama sits a fragile old woman whose very essence is being chipped away by a desperate disease - a fact which renders The Iron Lady as a mere Hollywood construct, a ripping yarn coming soon to a silver screen near you. Take what you will from the film when you see it, but allow her the space to melt away from public life. The time to provide judgement on Thatcher will arrive again soon, but that destination has yet to be reached.