Saturday, 7 January 2012

Film review :" The Iron Lady"

"Prime Ministers are human too". "The Iron Lady" which stars Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher purports to show this truth.

Prime Minister, David Cameron today objected to this film on the basis that Baroness Thatcher is still alive and subject to cruel dementia. He feels that "now is not the time to show this film".

However, the tragedy of dementia is not unusual for British Prime Ministers. I once met another former BritishPrime Minister, Harold Wilson, in his old age. He seemed humble, warm and human if rather fast talking - clearly very brilliant. Not much later, his able mind was overwhelmed by dementia. Of course, in the general population, dementia is widespread (including among committed Christians) - and the film did not flinch from "integrating it". The director said they were not ashamed of it.

I had expected this film to portray an elderly woman in deep decline with advanced dementia but Meryl Streep's adept performance, at times in a state of mild confusion, infuses even that situation with warmth and humour. One starts to think that in fact, one did feel affection for Thatcher. Streep's performance is so utterly wonderful and I cannot imagine she will not win "Best Actress" for it.

I can also commend the film as having some of the warmth that I recall from once encountering Margaret Thatcher, myself. Its flaw is that it does not analyse her political ideas and shows only a few of her facets. It also attributes all her ideas to her Conservative father, which I cannot believe. Nor does it mention her "Christian motivation". Its analysis of the relationship of Dennis Thatcher with his wife is unconvincing.

Margaret Thatcher was raised a strict Methodist, was a Bible study group member at Oxford and her favourite saying was John Wesley's:

"Earn as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can"

This did not impress me much at the time- because I could nowhere find in the Bible any command to "earn as much as you can". Nor does the Bible teach, as Thatcher seemed to, any special respect for those who create wealth (likely to be "the rich") whose temptations thereby greatly increase. Indeed, the NT, teaches that a rich man is far less likely to get into Heaven - due to the lure of wealth - unless he uses it for God. We are all sinners and must guard against sin - which includes idolatry and greed.

We also know that Margaret Thatcher said:

"No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well".

But she never discussed how his money was procured.

She also said:

"It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but the love of money for its own sake".

We agree about idolatry being wrong - but it was as if all money for her was "clean" - when in fact it is not. It matters deeply for Christians how money is earned. While we agree that money does enable one to help people we think that Mrs Thatcher should have added that she was aware that since The Good Samaritan was a fictional character emanating from the mind of Christ, the wealth of the Samaritan had clearly not issued from:

-exploiting or underpaying the poor
-undeserved bank bonuses
-theft and illegality
-tax evasion
-blackmail or
-shoddy work.

Clearly, the Samaritan's money was "clean money" and was either inherited, a gift of love or gratitude, or had come from honest, hard work, paying taxes and fair dealings. This money was not worshipped, or hoarded. This money was not the "be all and end all" of the Good Samaritan's life (which is sin) even if he was wealthy. This money was just a means to serve God, with positive intervention.   "Thatcherism" seemed deeply confused to me, theologically.

This might suggest that she was only partly trained in a full understanding of Christian theology, inspite of The Thatcher Foundation publishing online her own autographed Methodist Catechism. She does repeatedly say that her stimulating father was "self-educated", even if he was "the best-read man" she knew. Alderman Roberts's extant sermon notes (online at "The Thatcher Foundation") do not appear to discuss theology in any detail, but rather passionately teach commitment to one's belief (presumably religious belief, although he was also a Conservative) in a world always tending to compromise.

I encountered Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, at the height of her power, in the mid-1980s. She did indeed have a warmer side well portrayed in this film.

I was at the Barbican Concert Hall in London, not long after the IRA tried to assassinate her at Brighton. I was singing in the choir of "All Souls Church London", at its height, at the time, at one of the early Prom Praises, but succumbing to an awful chronic illness and I felt weak and confused. I recall her energetically arriving with frightening,
possibly SAS bodyguards, with guns in holsters.

Most Christians, at the time, had reservations about Thatcher's "theology", while being grateful for her support. We appreciated that she might feel glad to be among "safe" Christians, so she was applauded on arrival and departure. She had with her the husband of someone tragically killed in the bombing.

I recall the orchestra starting up with "Oh, for the Wings of Dove" which has quite a long introduction, when a fellow choir member collapsed on the stage beside me, when her foot gave way. Since the Church Choir was designed to be like a "serene swan swimming", I had about 15 bars of music, in my weakness, to get this person off the ground before finding the first note. I recall in my confused state, praying for strength to lift her - all because the Prime Minister was in the audience. Suddenly she "rose on wings" and unperturbed, we both found our first note. At the end of the evening, The Prime Minister, instead of marching straight out, or thanking anyone else, came up to us both, stood at the side of the stage, handbag in front, leaned towards us with her seraphic smile (which Streep imitates perfectly) and mouthed "Thank you".  I was astonished to find myself in a society effectively turning its back on me, falling through its so-called "safety net" - and yet the most powerful person of all, the Prime Minister, alone, was thanking me. In person, she was active, energetic and involved, not aloof.

I have often wondered why she did this? Did our vulnerablity "touch a nerve" in her, after the recent bombing? The film shows her room being blown up at Brighton and suggests that she felt like "giving up" after the bombing. Did this incident, make her doubt God, as she said that an earthquake in Italy did, for a short time, until she recalled the laws of physics (see link to her own words below)? Did she like the fact that we made every effort to enable "the show to go on"?

Whatever if was, I was astonished by her sensitive thoughtfulness, particularly as my condition was deeply misunderstood at the time. She appreciated us - and with a rare "heart" showed it. Years later, I also met with Dennis Thatcher in their house and he was equally welcoming, warm and appreciative. Neither ever treated me as "a lesser mortal" - indeed they seemed to honour and to be interested in people. They were, to me at least, highly polite, appreciative people.

Margaret Thatcher also improved the lives of the seriously disabled. Due to her, The Disability Living Allowance was introduced which is 40% more than unemployment benefit. She looked into whether having a disability costs 40% more and she agreed that it does.

I wonder what she would make of this film? I think it would irritate her because it was not about her political ideas. Meryl Streep, in character, says in the film that this age is "all about feelings and not about ideas" (and principles). It totally fails to address her theological "muddle", but at least shows that she was not lacking compassion - as the BBC claimed when she stepped down.

Margaret Thatcher, the politician, was a courageous, formidable woman whom no one could stand against, due to her determination and self-belief. Some of her inner contradictions are tackled in the film, in terms of her family - but not in terms of her politics or theology. That is why I don't think it will win "Best Picture".

The film is being "heckled" in some cinemas by those with bad memories of Thatcher but our cinema was fully sold out all day. My impression was that it was full of people who had drawn benefit from her. There is a silent majority e.g. formerly "working class" people who improved their lives through her and for whom she is something of "an icon".

I presume that Thatcher's family have been consulted on the making of this film as I believe it is based on Carol Thatcher's account of her mother during recent years. Personally, I did not find it in bad taste : it is partly a study of dementia. In our view, this film does nothing to undermine her.

As a postscript, an elderly friend has just offered me further evidence of "kindnesses" by Margaret Thatcher. She told me she knew a councillor serving on a committee with Thatcher in South London, long before she was well known. The fellow member left her handbag on a bus. Margaret Thatcher noticed it, got off the bus with it and returned it to its thankful owner. The future Prime Minister then duly waited for her next bus home.

For Margaret Thatcher's own revealing description of her very modest background, values and views on religion see here

See this film review from Matthew Parris (he seems unaware of her Christian and "kindly" side)

Some quotes from Margaret Thatcher:

-Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul. My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police".

- It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.

-I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

-Popular capitalism is nothing less than a crusade to enfranchise the many in the economic life of the nation.

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