Irony of The Iron Lady?
I finally went to see Meryl Streep play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. I had been wanting to see the film, but it had slipped off my radar screen due to my being occupied with various things recently, including the numerous duties associated with the semester's onset, and I only was reminded of it when my wife asked if I wanted to see it with her. I did.
Streep does her usual flawless best, of course, and the film brought back memories of those times because I lived through them myself, so I enjoyed the scenes, but I found the movie lacking. As I told Sun-Ae when we were leaving the cinema, unless one already knows the story of Thatcher's years in office, the movie will be incomprehensible. She agreed and said that one professor here in Korea -- an older female professor of political science, if I recall -- had made much the same criticism.
The story suffers the identical ailment as Thatcher herself, namely, a fragmented memory of her life. The irony -- unintended, I presume -- is that we viewers succumb to this same condition. Seeing this film can make one forget why Thatcher was great.
I got the film's main point, of course, that Thatcher's life was a Shakespearean tragedy after the manner of King Lear, with Thatcher ending her career incapable of listening to anyone else, and there's some truth to that view, but her larger career did not end with that political defeat at the hands of her fellow Conservatives. She not only stepped down from power with grace in her final speech to Parliament, she also gave a rousing speech at the first Conservative Party meeting after that and received a standing ovation from the rank-and-file members. Moreover, she regained her confidence quickly after her fall from power and went on to a post-political career giving political speeches, for which she was much sought after around the world throughout the nineties and into the new millenium, until a series of strokes in 2002 cut that short and led to her decline.
Every life ends in decline, unless prematurely shortened, but I can say that the movie, despite its limitations, managed to convey hints of her earlier greatness even in its depiction of her in failing health. There's a touching scene near the end where she's being examined by her doctor. He asks her how she feels -- perfectly normal for a doctor to inquire about -- and she goes on a rant about how everybody these days wants to know each other's feelings:
"Don't ask me what I'm feeling," she gripes, "ask me what I'm thinking!"There was irony in that, too, but intentional irony for the film in this case, and I suppose there's some truth to this irony, for Thatcher's strength of character proved to be her weakness as well: self-reliant, she came to rely on no one but herself and thus came to lose the support of her closest political associates. That was her political destiny
"What are you thinking?" the doctor asks.
Appearing initially at a loss, she nevertheless steels herself and manages to draw upon a memory apt for the moment, "I'm thinking about something my father used to tell me. 'Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny!'"
But as I've already pointed out, her life didn't end with that defeat, nor did her political influence.