It seemed oddly appropriate to be watching a film about Thatcher in my local cinema in Wood Green, North London. Not only was the area (branded as ‘Shopping City’) recently the scene of extensive looting by youth driven mad with frustration at their failure to take part in the great consumer society; it was also the setting for the recent film ‘Dreams of a Life’, which told the true story of a woman (a former ’80s socialite) who was found dead in 2006 in an apartment in the same complex as Wood Green’s mall. Her body had lain undiscovered for three years, and the film traces how a vibrant young woman could slowly and sadly drift away from all contact with friends and family in a city where shopping is the only means of acquiring any sense of identity and belonging.
If there is one individual who can more than any other be held responsible for the collapse of communities and social solidarity in the UK it is Margaret Thatcher.
Odd, then, that a group of filmmakers who were avowedly no fans of her politics (director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan) should choose, and choose this moment, to present a film which encourages us to sympathise with the former Prime Minister on a personal level.
It is not remotely a bad film: the acting is superb, the script is tight and, one presumes, the on-set catering was almost certainly top-notch. And there are some pointed digs at her politics, particularly in relation to the wider effects of the cuts that Thatcher imposed; also, the opening scene, in which a visibly confused and physically decrepit Thatcher pops out for some milk and experiences first-hand the rude and uncaring society that she did so much to create, can be read as a criticism. But on the whole there is very little that even the most fundamentalist Thatcherite would have a problem with. The intention is clearly to make us sympathise with her as an increasingly helpless individual.
At least when US filmmaking Oliver Stone depicted Richard Nixon as a widely misunderstood hippy, his subject’s political legacy was dead and buried and his reputation in tatters, whereas this same is not even remotely true for Thatcher. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to challenge themselves, and us, to think more carefully about someone not usually seen as entirely human. By contrast, the recent TV biopic of Fred West did not attempt the same treatment of its subject, although it must be acknowledged that he was responsible for the murders of considerably fewer Argentinians than Thatcher.
And so the woman who declared there was no such thing as society, and then tried to prove her point by smashing it to pieces, is portrayed as well-meaning and genteel. Sadly we do not get to see her in her addled dotage pissing in her cornflakes and pouring milk down the toilet as the inevitable hysterical hype in the Mail and Telegraph suggested we would. one can only conclude that the filmmakers are devoid of any political intelligence whatsoever in releasing such a film right now in the current climate of pure Thatcherism. Mind you I have to admit that I can’t wait for the sequel, in which she actually dies. Go and see ‘Dreams of a Life’ (or the equally wonderful ‘The Artist’, for that matter) instead and give this utterly misguided hagiography of an evil, evil woman a very wide berth.