As the Golden Globes awards roll out in Hollywood today, it’s worth reflecting on one of the films, Iron Lady about Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first – and, to date, only – woman Prime Minister (from 1979-1990).
Thatcher was not only a divisive Prime Minister but, from all reports, a powerful personality.
For most on the conservative side of politics, she is a modern day heroine who was bold and courageous in halting a Britain that was widely perceived as in decline. Her policies emphasised deregulation, flexible labour markets, privatisation of state-owned companies and withdrawal of subsidies to private companies. Her Prime Ministership was played out amongst recession, high unemployment and a brutal battle with unions followed by economic recovery and enormous popular support over the Falklands War.
Thatcher won three elections, but she was ultimately deposed by Party colleagues after a Cabinet revolt on issues such as the ‘poll tax’ and Britain’s involvement in the European Union (then the European Community).
In his recent autobiography, A Journey, the more recent British Prime Minister Tony Blair makes it clear that central to his ‘New Labour’ approach as an Opposition Leader in the mid 1990s was public acknowledgement of the fact that “Britain needed the industrial and economic reforms of the Thatcher period.”
Played by leading American actress Meryl Streep in Iron Lady, Prime Minister Thatcher was intelligent, confident, ambitious, formidable and willing and able to make tough decisions – but also brusque, dismissive and insensitive. She was never one to espouse feminism and equal opportunity policies, yet she personified them in her achievements and attitudes.
Streep’s performance as the Margaret Thatcher many now imagine her to be – with dementia, wandering around her house in a lonely existence having conversations with her husband who died in 2003 with flashbacks to her political career – is a tour de force.
Based on every public image we have of Thatcher, Streep clearly ‘gets’ her and the film treads the politics of Thatcher and her time factually and without commentary. It would be surprising if another actress beat Streep to the ‘best actress’ award (although, as I write this ahead of the announcement, I could well be proved wrong!). Other performances that have been nominated are very good; but Streep is Thatcher.
In saying all that, there is something about Iron Lady as a film that is disconcerting – and, of course, it is the fact that we are not used to seeing someone portrayed on film as having dementia.
To portray a living person as demented is, at best, unkind; or, at worst, untrue. In the case of Iron Lady, it is even more confronting and uncomfortable because it is someone who we saw as an important world figure in our living rooms on the nightly news every day.
But it is also a timely reminder of life’s frailties; that which we have little to no control over. And it gives motherpedia another reason to invite readers to join Alzheimers Australia’s campaign to become a ‘Dementia Champion’ in 2012.
Alzheimer’s Australia is asking the Gillard Government to make dementia a national health priority by allocating $500 million over 5 years in this year’s Federal Budget and they’re seeking the support of 100,000 Australians to help convince the Government of your support.
Dementia doesn’t discriminate. It can be your mum, your grandfather, your husband; people such as writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, actors Peter Falk, Rita Hayworth and Charles Bronson, fashion designer Louis Feraud; and those who were once significant players in some of the most crucial decisions of our time including Ronald Reagan and, assuming Iron Lady the film is accurate, Margaret Thatcher.
So enjoy the gorgeous gowns of the Golden Globes today; watch Iron Lady for yourself if you haven’t already; but please also do something practical for your fellow human being. Sign-up as a Dementia Champion at www.fightdementia.org.au or at http://facebook.com/fightdementia
· If you want further information about dementia for yourself, or a loved one, or to discuss with your doctor, please visit www.alzheimers.org.au or call the Dementia Hotline on 1800 100 500.
· Check out the winners at www.goldenglobes.org