The Iron Lady” is a “surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of The United Kingdom. One of the 20th century’s most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to small through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male dominated world. Alison Fletcher, associate professor of history is a native of England. She is currently working on a book, “Faith in Empire: The London Missionary Society and the Building of British Colonial Modernity” and recently saw “Iron Lady.”
Although I am aware that the 1980s in Britain is not your expertise, what is your take on Meryl Streep playing Mrs. Thatcher as a sort of British hero fighting for feminism in the film “Iron Lady?”
First of all, Margaret Thatcher was not considered a feminist when she was in power and importantly she did not define herself as a feminist. If you define feminism as about challenging unequal power structures Thatcher did not do that—in fact one could argue the ideology she represented of free-market, anti-union, anti-state, pro-business reinforced inequality in Britain. Furthermore, Thatcher did not promote other women. This movie is a personal story about a woman torn between ambition and family, who rises to power in the overwhelming male world of politics. It correctly represents the two most important figures in her life—her husband Denise Thatcher, and her father, Alfred Roberts.
Do you think with the passing of time Thatcher is seen as less objectionable by Britain?
Thatcher’s legacy is still politically divisive today. For the Conservative party, Thatcher is still seen as an icon, but the Labor party remember her policies as divisive and economically damaging, especially to the working class.
Meryl Streep is American; would it be better to have a British actress for Margaret Thatcher’s character portrayal?
Meryl Streep did a good job with the accent, and was very convincing as the elderly floundering woman with dementia. I was less convinced of Streep’s portrayal of Thatcher as prime minister. I remember her as more eloquent and powerful when she spoke in the House of Commons, and I found the scene unconvincing when she somewhat hysterically chastises Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
What is your opinion on how Thatcher broke through the glass ceilings of gender and class on a personal level?
Thatcher came from a lower middle-class family with no privilege. She went to Oxford on a scholarship and was a very smart, capable, and driven woman. She was highly articulate and ambitious, but I think luck was involved in her rise to power, as well as internal Conservative party politics.
Do you think the movie should have shown how her policies and procedures disadvantaged the poor and middle class? If so, why? If not, why?
Margaret Thatcher’s policies did not disadvantage the middle class, rather they disadvantaged the working class. For her supporters, Thatcher remains a figure who revitalized Britain’s economy, ended trade union power, and re-established the nation as a world power. Critics argue that premiership was marked by high unemployment and social unrest. The film portrays Thatcher’s policies in a positive light and there is no attempt to portray the difficulties of the poor. Rather, they are seen as violent raging masses on the streets.
-Mary Munion ’12, Juniata Online Journalist