A King Lear for Girls

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture.


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The new film “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, initially presented the left-leaning filmmakers with a quandary: how to put forth an Oscar-worthy portrayal without simultaneously honoring a revered icon of the right. They seem to have solved it by making this film about a feminist icon, not a conservative one.

Due for wide release in the U.S. this month, “The Iron Lady” depicts Thatcher’s professional and personal rise and decline, from provincial grocer’s daughter to the top of the political order and back down again to – as the film portrays it – lonely and doddering irrelevance. Along the way we see her confrontation with powerful trade union strikers, forceful defense of free markets, persistence in the face of sexist derision from her political peers, triumph in the 1982 Falklands war, and Churchillian refusal to appease IRA terrorists (looking over that list makes me wish Ms. Thatcher had been our president for the last 3 years…).

The film features Streep, the most Oscar-nominated actress in history, in the role of a lifetime which will surely earn her another Oscar nod. It has been as polarizing as the extraordinary Iron Lady herself. Some critics have given it – or at least Ms. Streep – glowing reviews, while others, and some of Thatcher’s family and former friends and colleagues, have called it an unkind portrayal. One friend of the family said, prior to the film’s release, that Thatcher’s children were “appalled at what they have learnt about the film. They think it sounds like some left-wing fantasy.”

Norman Tebbit, an advisor who worked closely with Thatcher for eight years and who complains that the filmmakers didn’t reach out to him and others who really knew her, wrote in the UK’s Telegraph Online that “she was never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep.”

But some on the left feel the film does not go far enough in its unkindness toward England’s modern-day Boadicea. As Stuart Jeffries wrote in the British left-wing The Guardian online, her time was an “era of rage about what Thatcher, economy destroyer and warmonger, was doing to Britain… It will be a shame if ‘The Iron Lady’ overlooks that deep anger in favour of exclusive focus on Thatcher as a woman triumphing against the odds.”

And yet that is the focus the filmmakers gave it. Streep and British director Phyllida Lloyd, who have both stated that “The Iron Lady” is “King Lear for girls,” have made it less about Thatcher’s bold conservatism and very much about “a woman who smashed through the barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world.”

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  • Larry

    No matter what you thought about their music, the Spice Girls announcing that they admired Margaret Thatcher for her achievements destroyed the possibility of them remaining together as a group. Every leftist in the world of the "yarts" jumped on them over it.

  • Ken

    Leftists need to distort and marginalize any great icon of the right. Those icons are the ones that show how flawed and ineffective there ideals and governance are.

  • tarleton

    Thatcher saved the UK from becoming a soviet era economic basket case …the Leftwing socialist goverment of the 1970's had wrecked the economy of the UK and allowed militant unions to try and run the goverment , but the ''iron lady '' put an end to that …she smashed the thugish unions and became the surgeon that provided a life saving operation to save a dying patient

  • Ron Carnine

    The movie industry does what it always does with history, the rewrite it to fit their concept of right and wrong. Thatcher was a very brave and very strong woman. She knew what was right and wasn't afraid to do it even when her male counter parts thought she was too extreme. Hollywood did the same thing with JFK. The problem is that many American's don't study history so they take what the movies say as the gospel. Ms.Streep is either too liberal or too ignorant of the real Thatcher to portray her as she really was. That is why they didn't contact those who knew her in reality.

  • tagalog

    Since when are "we" uncomfortable with women in power? Women have held positions of power throughout the history of the United States and the United Kingdom. In what universe does Meryl Streep live that she finds societal discomfort (or male discomfort, for that matter) in the U.S. or the U.K. about women holding political power? Gloria Steinem World?

    Where are Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, or Boadicea, or Molly Pitcher, or Eleanor Roosevelt, when you need them?

    • intrcptr2

      Hollywood

  • mrbean

    No doubt, the bipolar hag Meryl Streep worships the post menopausal closet communist hag Hillary Clinton, who only significant trait is her mouth babbling streaks of profanity and bombastic anti semite comments. I got news for the old bipolar hag. Hillary Rodham Clinton has never done anything significant in her entire life and her inflated opinion of herself is downright laughable. If she had not chased and married Bill Clinton and hung on his coat tails she would never have been a "carpetbagger" New York Senator from Arkansas, and for damn sure she would never have been an also ran failed contender for the Democrat Party 2008 Presidential candidate nomination. Hillary Rodham Clinton has never gotten one single job on her own anywhere in her life. And when she got them she botched every single one of them. But now this inept failure is the Secretary of State and again failing miserably in every way,

    • joy52

      Ouch.

  • Ann

    Can't stand Meryl Streep —movies are not what they use to be—haven't seen a good one is a very long time!!! don't need to give them my money—grown people spending their lives playing other peoples lives and people paying to see them pretend to be someone else—just seems a little creepy to me—I have my own life—read a book!!!

    • Questions

      Maybe you should try seeing a few.

    • traeh

      To me a great actor is one where I don't notice their technique at all, I'm not conscious of them as an actor at all, I'm completely convinced by their character, and completely lost in the story. Streep is the opposite. With Streep, the film is always too much a showcase for her "virtuoso technique." I'm not interested in watching "great actors" in that sense. The too-muchness of her panoply of odd little mannerisms she creates for a character, her too noticeable, oh-so-impressive mastery of some exotic accent, etc. So many people fall down on the ground in awe at her acting. To me Streep is a case where the emperor has no clothes. She's a good actress, but not the GREAT that so many sillies promote.

  • intrcptr2

    Iron Lady, the moniker given her by Red Star.

    How ironic that the Red Army publication called her "Stalina". Do you suppose the comparison to Uncle Joe intentional? Or that folks like Streep and Lloyd accept it?

    • tagalog

      "Stalin" means "man of steel," not "man of iron." The term "iron lady," would not translate into a word like "Stalina."

      • intrcptr2

        Quite right. I know that's what Stalin means, of course.

        Apparently getting carried away with my own supposed cleverness…

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    It is funny watching a failed screenwriter pan a successful movie. It’s like watching crippled dog trying to chase a parked car.

    • jay

      oh yes, very successful!

  • Michael

    Don't blame Strip,writer writes script which producer wants, director interprets it and a good actor(she is) performs accordingly their wish.

  • Questions

    Mark Tapson, as usual, misses the point of movies. Films aren't policy background papers, Right or Left, grafted on celluloid. They don't exist to advance a political "agenda." They are about storytelling, about getting into the souls of characters. I'm a conservative, but I fully understand why the producers didn't want to make "The Iron Lady" into a "conservative movie." It would have been a rather boring two-hour infomercial had they done so. I could see that sort of thing at a Heritage Foundation banquet.

    I am sure that the wonderfully gifted Meryl Streep has given Mrs. Thatcher the treatment she deserves, something I anticipate, at any rate, when I see the movie. No, the Devil doesn't necessarily wear Prada. Mrs. Palin, however, might.

    • fiddler

      "They don't exist to advance a political "agenda." They are about storytelling, about getting into the souls of characters."

      So accuracy is boring? So the truth produces a yawn? Don't tell me when the left comes out with "Redacted", "W", "Rendition" or others they are merely being "creative". They know that people are influenced by what they see, and often are more given to remember what a Hollywood icon "portrayed" than what history declares. Sure Michael Moore just likes to wax "creative". He has no other motive than that.

      Perhaps it take more talent and skill (and COURAGE) to accurately portray a person for who they were and make it interesting rather than see how "provocative" they can make the person to serve their ends. Sorry, people shouldn't be that naive.

      • Questions

        Anyone can cherry-pick a tiny handful of movies and use their existence to "prove" just about anything they want about the industry. I could "prove," for example, that Hollywood is promoting a "pro-penguin" agenda. Consider: "March of the Penguins," "Happy Feet," "Happy Feet 2," "Surf's Up," "Mr. Popper's Penguins" — see how easy it is to play this game?

        As for those movies you listed, they weren't nearly as "Leftist" as you imagine, assuming you bothered to see them and not find out second-hand from some smoke-out-of-the-ears blog. (I did see them.) Michael Moore? He's a Flint, Michigan documentarian operating independent of the Hollywood orbit.

        Nice try, Fiddler, but you're making me yawn. Movies don't exist to pander to political agitprop on demand, Right or Left. They exist to tell stories. And that's something Hollywood is very good at.

        • Jay

          Michael Moore never made a documentary in his life

          Funny how a leftist like you doesn't think Hollywood is leftist. You're right, it's all just storytelling.

          • Questions

            I'm not a Leftist. I'm a filmgoer who checks his conservative politics at the door. Not everything reduces to politics.

          • Dr. Van Nostrand

            Conservative? You must be joking.
            We are a troll in our midst.The worst ones are always masquerading as conservatives.Fortunately they can be easily spotted by their stupid inane statements -Hollywood is not leftist,Michael is a documentarian!!!
            Or their lame analogies-Penguin movies to leftist movies ……..seriously??!!
            Or the fantastic claim that W,Redacted and Rendition are not leftist!
            Yes-I have seen them-they are pretty damn leftist!

            I would like you to explain what was NOT leftist about them-this should be rich!

    • Dr Van Nostrand

      "No, the Devil doesn't necessarily wear Prada. Mrs. Palin, however, might. "

      I almost missed this snarky comment against Gov Palin.
      Conservative my ass,you are just a liberal troll.Goddamn these leftist hacks,with more tricks than a whore!Go back Huffington Post or CrooksandLiars or whatever other sewer you crawled from.

    • intrcptr2

      So now it's an exciting infomercial, because a powerful and influential conservative politician has finally "gotten hers"?

      If they were interested in Maggie, maybe they could have made a movie about how she rose to power, and why (Which IS the most interesting story about most any of us), rather than a questionable sap story about how her brain has dried up (Neatly implying that there wasn't quite so much going on up there even when she was fully functional).

      And if you truly believe that movies do not exist as "policy background papers", you may be right. But to take that possibility (With which I am certain men like Lenin and Mao would have chuckled their faux agreeement) to a conclusion that movies are thus not advancing agendas, is positively asinine.

      None of us would know who Joe Goebbels was otherwise. Nor would Capra have made "Why We Fight". Film is the finest tool of propaganda. And this film, complete with the protests of Lady Thatcher's family, is a modern-day exemplar.

    • clark

      "I'm a conservative"

      "the treatment she deserves"

      Based on what?

  • johnnywoods

    Streep needs to remember that she is simply a "hypocrite" which means "play-actor". Maggie Thatcher was a great historical world leader for her time. Streep is not worthy to wipe the dust of the"Iron Lady`s" shoes. Reagan and Thatcher were a great team, may both their tribes increase..

  • jeffrey hardin

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is an empowering soul, strong will and unstoppable, she posses a fiery intellect, who with President Reagan, moved mountains and built bridges where others had failed. They were together impossible to stop or hinder, and many tried, and so did many fail…She was a class act, a Dame of honor, and one who endeared the love and trust from those she fought so hard to protect…She should be one of the top role models for young girls and woman today, because she exemplified the very best of what builds up a woman. This movie should be boycotted and Mrs Thacher championed, returning to her, the years of service she bestowed not only upon the UK, but also to those of us here within the United States and around the world…God's Speed Prime Minister Thatcher, you deserve better than this, and thank you so much for your service to us all…

  • traeh

    To me a great actor is one where I don't notice their technique at all, I'm not conscious of them as an actor at all, I'm completely convinced by their character, and completely lost in the story. Streep is the opposite. With Streep, the film is always too much a showcase for her "virtuoso technique." I'm not interested in watching "great actors" in that sense. The too-muchness of her panoply of odd little mannerisms she creates for a character, her too noticeable, oh-so-impressive mastery of some exotic accent, etc. So many people fall down on the ground in awe at her acting. To me Streep is a case where the emperor has no clothes. She's a good actress, but not the GREAT that so many sillies promote.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/dog-articles dogvault

    I read reviews that said that besides being iron to the outside world, she had many doubts and was quite a human person. She struggled with the IRA solution and many things such as the Falklands. Perhaps she was a great poker player, not someone per se belonging to the left or the right. I find it refreshing that they tried to go under the surface to find the woman behind the public persona.