Thursday, January 5, 2012

Memo to Conservatives: Movies are Not Reality – Biopic of Margaret Thatcher is Entertainment, Not History

Conservatives Continue to Escape Reality for Fantasy

The normally intelligent and articulate columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan has, like all of us, has her weak spots.  In her case it is an infatuation for both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that borders on obsession, and it results in the otherwise sane and intelligent writer embracing fiction rather than reality.

The case in point is the newly released biopic with the great Meryl Street portraying former British Prime Minister Thatcher in what will obviously be a very positive portrayal of the leader.  Here is Ms. Noonan practically overcome with joy about the impending release of the movie.

Mrs. Thatcher's political views are never granted any sympathetic legitimacy, though the movie subtly allows there may have been some legitimacy. Perhaps the great flaw is that it has too great a fear of exactly locating her greatness, and the meaning of her greatness. This is not so much a political as an aesthetic flaw: In the classic movies about Elizabeth I, for instance, you knew why you were watching the movie, why she was its subject, and how she changed history.

But note that she is concerned that the movie does not glorify Ms. Thatcher correctly.  Unfortunately for Ms. Noonan, the movie apparently does get it wrong but not in the way that Ms. Noonan thinks.  The Thatcher biographer whose book was the basis of the movie is quite critical in that he thinks the movie overly glorified Ms. Thatcher at the expense of history.

The author is concerned that screenwriters chose to enhance the prime minister's role in important affairs of the 1980s at the expense of other key figures, such as her foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe.

"Like any film of that sort, it simplifies and it dramatises her as a great individual, fighting against all these things as if it was just her on her own," Campbell tells the Daily Telegraph. "It does not credit her colleagues like Geoffrey Howe, or anybody else. The other politicians are made to look wet – she bashes them.

The whole thing is illustrative of the Conservatives unending attempt to change the image of Ronald Reagan from something he was into something they wanted him to be.  Because of a compliant media, this fantasy adoration of Mr. Reagan and Ms. Thatcher succeeds in the short term, but the judgment of history, once time has passed so that objective analysis can be presented, will be more critical because it will be reality based.

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