Sunday, March 08, 2009

Thatcher - a sympathetic portrait?

I seem to be out of kilter with everyone else in respect to the TV drama Margaret, about Thatcher in her bunker. The prevailing view - in nearly all the reviews I have seen - is that it was at least a somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Thatcher, showing her "human" side. I didn't see that at all (but maybe that's just me). The arrogance and conceit was there, the petty humiliation of colleagues (asking Howe to fetch her shawl), and even the vanity (the smirk of pleasure as Charles Powell comments on her ear-rings or remarks that she looks "radiant" - a very unsympathetic but probably accurate portrait of Powell as a scheming, sycophantic courtier). Yes, there was the "private side" but I didn't find it sympathetic - it was mostly maudlin self-pity. She was certainly depicted as having a limitless capacity to feel sorry for herself but there was little evidence here of any ability to empathise with others (and of course the real Thatcher didn't have any). Yes, she put a blanket over Crawfie in one scene; but then Crawfie appears to have been a family retainer, someone useful. To anyone not useful to her, or to whom she was not related, Thatcher - on the evidence here - gave no thought at all. It was all about Margaret. She didn't even have the grace to leave the stage with dignity after the gig was over; she had to be dragged from office kicking-and-screaming. Lindsay Duncan's performance was excellent, but one thing was missing. It is impossible to truly appreciate the awfulness of Thatcher without that voice. It turned my blood cold; it was both repellent and nauseating. Time moves on. It is thirty years since Thatcher was elected; nearly twenty since she left office. One has to be in one's fifties to have lived through those awful years. You had to be there. You had to hear her in her pomp. Ever now I cannot hold back a shiver of distaste.


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