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So: It's the moral tussle over the celluloid legacy of Britain's first and only female Prime Minister that everyone's talking about – but will The Iron Lady really show us what Margaret Thatcher was like, or is it just an excuse to cartoonishly deify/ disgrace an old woman now that she can't remember what films are any more?
THE IRON LADY IS AN UNREPRESENTATIVE TRAVESTY
by Norman Hatton
Let's get a few things straight. This film should not be called The Iron Lady. No – that is a misnomer. Instead, it should be called 'The Iron-y Lady', so fraught is it with grim paradoxes. That a woman should turn out to be worse than a man. That's irony. That the very society which she claimed didn't exist should buy tickets to see her portrayed on film. Irony. A black fly in your chardonnay. Irony. A death row pardon, two minutes too late. Again, this is irony.
First off, The Iron(y) Lady [alright, let's knock if off now! - comedy Ed] is just woefully inaccurate. Clearly it was made under the close supervision of the swashbuckling venture capitalists she so adored – the sort of gobby pretty-boys who spent the 80s shovelling all the money from the Bank Of England into sacks and taking it off to buy gold-plated jetskis with built-in cocktail dispensers.
The film's first mistake is to completely ignore the time Thatcher spent placing gelignite under parts of Liverpool in order to blow it up. Neither does it illustrate all the time she spent personally snatching milk from babies and toddlers, as she rode through the streets of Northern market towns with a loudhailer and a long net, inside of what she cruelly dubbed her 'Anti-Milk Float'. Instead, the film's narrative tracks her rise to power and subsequent fall from it, propagating throughout the entirely unrealistic canard that people voted for her in three successive general elections. I very highly doubt that is so – certainly none of my friends ever did, though I remember talking to Alexei Sayle and Billy Bragg at an after-party for the Red Wedge tour in 1985, and they said they were starting to come round to her, and that if taxes went over 50 percent again they'd probably both leave the country anyway.
In the main, though, everyone hated her. Here we were, trying to build a compassionate, deeply caring state that supported the essential dignity of every human being, and yet she steadfastly refused to die horribly in the white heat of a car bomb. “I hope she gets really old and senile and loses her marbles and all she has to look back on are fading memories of her glory days while she's having another sponge bath,” I remember saying to Ben Elton at the time.
“Yeah,” he replied, “God, that's hilarious! An 86-year-old woman with dementia! I might write a musical about her death agonies! God knows what I'll be doing in the year 2012, though. Probably still be as radical as ever, knowing me.” There was a brief pause at this point.
History, as Marx, or some other guy, once said, is all just a collection of lies told by the victors. And really, that is all this inverted pyramid of cinematic piffle represents. It fails to take account of the real struggle, and the real victims of Thatcher's economic 'revolution'. By all means, go and see The Iron(y) Lady [only joking! - comedy Ed]. But when you do, please remember the real people. People like my cousin Dave, who was coldheartedly retrenched from his job in a coal mine and forced to spend days standing on street corners smoking aggressively before he finally found work again at the Liverpool docks. You can imagine his fury when they were closed down, too, and he had to retrain as a typesetter on the Fleet Street printing presses. I can tell you, he was pretty miffed by 1989.
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THE IRON LADY IS AN UNREPRESENTATIVE TRAVESTY
by Derek Tebbit
Having done my time in the great Cabinets of the 1980s, I was greatly looking forward to watching The Iron Lady. Perhaps there would be fond reminiscences of 'Duke' Hussey's tea-spilling incident. Or the time Norman Fowler dressed up as an egg at the 1984 party conference after-party and was 'laid' by a young Norman Lamont, dressed as a character whom I now believe is widely known as 'Big Bird'.
No such luck, chum. This film, I'm afraid, delivers a wildly inaccurate account of those turbulent years. First off, Dennis always held his dessert spoon between the thumb and first knuckle of his index finger, not the second. Second off, the acerbic bollockings handed out to senior Cabinet ministers in this unscrupulous picture are wildly remiss. In actuality, they were twice as bad – as any fool who has read my memoirs will already know. Whither the time she jammed Kenneth Baker into a screen door and slammed it till he wept for his mother? Or the delicious scene that unfolded when she was standing atop Douglas Hurd's head in those fetching blue pumps and Michael Portillo entered the room, and she got him to kick the supine Hurd so hard in the guts that the fellow couldn't remember anything that had happened après 1982, and so had to read reams of books on the Falklands and labour relations just to catch up? None of these significant moments in the evolution of the Tory Party were captured at all, presumably because the wets who made this film are the sort of Film Council Islington luvvies who spent a decade fawning over Tony B-liar [steady! - comedy Ed].
Instead, the film charts (albeit in a rather anodyne fashion) her rise to power and subsequent fall from it. Sometimes, there are liberties taken that turn kernels of truth into towering oak trees of misinformation. For instance, when she is asked “What shall we do with the [Argentine ship] Belgrano?”, she is seen replying: “Sink it.” Cinematically, this works, but the producers have been a little economical with the verite – I was there, and can tell you that her exact words were: “Sink the fucker.”
Also, given that this is essentially a film about the 1980s, I find it strange that there is very little reference to the Rubik's Cube, dancing flowerpots or The A-Team, all of which were ubiquitous throughout the decade. I remember Mrs Thatcher watching an episode of the latter with extreme interest. “If this is what the Americans can do with their weaponry and a few hungry men,” she told me, “Imagine what we could do if we found a similar gang of misfits, and trained them to handle heavy explosives. Though I have to say, I doubt very much whether they truly are innocent of this 'crime they did not commit'.”
In all, the film makes government out to be a rather dull and dutiful business. At times, it is – as anyone who has sweated until 3AM over a red box full of urban regeneration policy documents will testify. But on the 'flip-side', it is often a business full of light and levity. We did have some real laughs. For instance, I remember when Margaret came to me in Cabinet and told me that she was going to blow up the entire city of Liverpool. I, of course, made the mistake of assuming she was joking. And it was only when, eight weeks later, CID came to me in confidence and said that they'd found her wandering up Lime Street in disguise, with enough heavy-duty explosive in her handbag to flatten Mount Ararat, that I paid heed to what a close shave we'd had.
This was just after she'd abandoned her habit of touring small Northern market towns in that blasted liability 'Anti-Milk Float' of hers, so we'd rather leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire! I also once remember her eating a small child during Cabinet, just to make the point that she was in charge and no one else was, its little bootie still attached as she unhooked her jaw to take the leg in one clean gulp. Actually, that might have been a film I saw. I find it so hard to tell at my age.