This week brings the nationwide release of The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Streep referred to the challenge of portraying Lady Thatcher as “daunting and exciting,” and as requiring “as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses.” Her performance has already been widely praised by critics, but for those who respect Lady Thatcher, not all the omens are positive.
In an interview with The New York Times, Streep compared Lady Thatcher to King Lear and commented that what interested her about the role “was the part of someone who does monstrous things maybe, or misguided things. Where do they come from?” That doesn’t sound good.
Conservatives are used to unfair treatment from Hollywood–in fact, we’ve come to expect it–but we’ll withhold judgment on the film until we’ve actually seen it. Dr. Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, former foreign policy researcher to Lady Thatcher, and a regular commentator on films for Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, will review The Iron Lady for The Foundry next week.
But whether the film is good, bad, indifferent, or just misguided, you don’t have to rely on Hollywood for your history. The real Lady Thatcher, patron of The Heritage Foundation, has a record that stands on its own, and she would want–she would demand–nothing more than to be judged by her own deeds and words.
That’s why, throughout this week and next, we will highlight some of Lady Thatcher’s greatest speeches, from her 1983 reminder to Britain’s Conservative Party that “there is no such thing as public money” to her staunch support for the sovereign, democratic nation-state in 1988 to her eulogy in 2004 for her friend, the late President Ronald Reagan.
If you want more, it’s easy to find. The Margaret Thatcher Foundation offers free online access to thousands of historical documents–speeches, official government documents, commentary, and much more–covering Lady Thatcher’s entire career, including more than 8,000 statements by Lady Thatcher herself.
Any conservative, any friend of liberty, indeed anyone with an interest in the history of the 20th century will find much here to treasure. If The Iron Lady does less than justice to the reality of Lady Thatcher’s life, it won’t be because her record is hidden. On the contrary: it’s there for all to read.
We at Heritage are honored to have a close association not only with Lady Thatcher but with many of her friends and advisers. Dr. Robin Harris, Lady Thatcher’s biographer and her main policy adviser, is a senior visiting fellow at Heritage. For him, her outstanding achievement was rejecting the belief that the job of the British government was to manage Britain’s continued decline in an orderly way. That is a lesson that President Obama, with his new-look defense strategy that sacrifices capabilities in pursuit of another ‘peace dividend,’ should take to heart.
No blog could adequately summarize Lady Thatcher’s achievements, from her rise as one of Britain’s first female MPs to Number 10 Downing Street, from her decisive rejection of socialism to her victory in the Falklands War, from her firm comradeship with the United States to her steadily deepening concerns about the anti-democratic, supranational impulse behind the European Union. Like the life of one of her heroes, Winston Churchill, her career was unlikely, remarkable, and a mirror of the larger course of the West.
Similarly, no one who reads her speeches, or the official documents that are now steadily being released can fail to recognize her intelligence, her determination, and her incredible appetite for hard work and her desire to get onto the next challenge. But what is most inspiring in Lady Thatcher’s life and work is her willingness to make hard choices and to be clear about the value of making them. It wasn’t easy to reject the pervasive declinism of Britain in the 1970s. It required strength of mind and character to believe that Britain could and would do better.
Today, when politicians cut the defense budget, they promise it will make us stronger. When they borrow money to waste on make-work green-energy schemes, they say it will make us richer. When they impose new regulations, they tell us it is all about making us more free. Lady Thatcher believed in freedom, she faced the need for choices squarely, and she made them. Her opponents hated her for it, but their remedies were just more of the same, more of what had been tried past the point of destruction in Britain and around the world. They were condemned not just by Lady Thatcher’s stinging words but by the fact that they were failures.
We at The Heritage Foundation are honored to have Lady Margaret Thatcher as our patron. The verdict of Hollywood, whatever it may be, is passing. There will always be only one real Iron Lady.