Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tears for the Iron Lady

I did not expect to cry in the film the "Iron Lady".

For many years now if people ask me who I most admire I would say Margaret Thatcher. She was the first politician I ever voted for. I lived through the disfunctional 70s in England and I watched in admiration as she rose to power, broke the back of the unions and got England back onto a healthy financial footing.

But as I watched the movie my chest felt a crushing ache and tears kept sliding down my cheeks.

Tears slipped out as I watched Meryl Streep's extraordinary portrayal of Mrs Thatcher's dementia. Living on a daily basis with my mother-in-law's dementia is upsetting for us and so painful and frightening for her. We help with the confusion, try to explain what's happening at any moment and grieve for the loss of her confidence and clarity. For a woman as brilliant and powerful as Margaret Thatcher to lose her mind must be heartbreaking for her at the moments she realizes it, and for her family.

Proud tears leaked out as I watched Mrs Thatcher win the leadership of her party and then became Prime Minister. She was the first woman in the Western world to win the elected leadership of a country. England has a history of very strong female leaders in Elizabeth I and Victoria, but Thatcher broke the thick glass ceiling of the English white male establishment (which is hugely powerful still today in English society) and smashed it with her drive, intellect and conviction. She was charismatic and extraordinary as she did it and I will never forget the thrill I felt as she won.

I listened to my mother's tears sitting next to me in the dark movie theatre as the film showed the day Airey Neave was killed by the IRA with a car bomb. Lord Mountbatten was also killed by an IRA car bomb in 1979 and I still remember her crying that day, grieving the man she had known as a little girl.

Don't get me wrong - it's a wonderful film and Meryl Streep's skill in her craft has to be seen to be believed. But if you connect with the tragedy of dementia yourself, or the intensity of the politics of the time, take tissues.

33 years after I voted for her the first time I still think of Margaret Thatcher as one of the best role models for me that I have ever seen. I saw her in person once in San Francisco, years after she was out of power, on stage with George Bush Snr and Mikael Gorbachev. Even then she was a force, leaving the other two in the dust with the power of her personality, her intellectual clarity and her conviction. Simply marvelous.

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