« Previous  
 Next »

Dunsmore: The Iron Lady

01/27/12 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) The Iron Lady, the new film about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been nominated for an Academy Award for its star. And as commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us, the movie, like its subject, has stirred up strong reactions.

(Dunsmore) I went to see The Iron Lady with great anticipation. I was based in London for much of Margaret Thatcher's time in office. I met and interviewed her in the course of reporting on the impact of Thatcherism in Britain and on the international stage. Like her or not, she was a powerful political presence who significantly shaped her times.

It was the Soviet news media that first dubbed Thatcher the Iron Lady and she relished the title. It perfectly described the image she constantly sought to project - that of a leader of deep convictions who could never be intimidated. Indeed it took steely determination for a woman whose father was a grocer, to fight her way through centuries of English upper class snobbery to become her country's first female prime minister. This Thatcher comes through loud and clear in a compelling and totally convincing performance by Meryl Streep.

For those who may have been expecting a feminist message in the film - there isn't one because while Thatcher was indeed a ground breaking woman, she lived in a man's world and that's the only world that interested her.

The British critics fall into two categories - and they are a reflection of the divisive nature of Thatcher's leadership. Those who loved Thatcher hate the film because it skips over many of the fundamental changes she brought about in Britain which they believe significantly made the country better.

Those who disliked Thatcher for her seeming insensitivity to the human and social consequences of her often harsh conservative policies also dislike the movie because at times it makes her seem both a sympathetic and even heroic character.

Personally, I take issue with the director's decision to devote so much time to Thatcher in her waning years. We learned some time ago from her daughter Carol that her mother has been suffering from dementia. And I understand the film using her senility as an artistic device to allow her to reflect on her past life through flash backs. But I would have preferred less of her dotage and more of her history. For instance her personal interactions with Ronald Reagan and Mikael Gorbachev as the Cold War was ending, were significant parts of her legacy which were barely touched upon.

Yet ultimately this film is not meant to be a history of the end of the Cold War any more than Shakespeare's Richard the III was a history of the end of the Plantagenet dynasty of British monarchs.

This is a very personal portrait of a once very important person. On that level I think the film gets it pretty much right. With rare exceptions, movies don't do the sweep of history all that well. We still need to read books for that purpose. But that doesn't mean we can't get a sense of character from a thoughtful film - especially when that central character is portrayed by a brilliant performer. By that measure, The Iron Lady is a notable success.

comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter