Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, Dementia and Art

Making the Thatcherite rounds today is this item in the Telegraph. It seems an anonymous source claims that Thatcher’s family is “appalled” by the screenplay for The Iron Lady:

Although the prospect of Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher may have pleased some admirers of the Conservative former prime minister, her children have been horrified to discover more about the film.

Mandrake hears that the screenplay of The Iron Lady depicts Baroness Thatcher as an elderly dementia-sufferer looking back on her career with sadness. She is shown talking to herself and unaware that her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, has died.

“Sir Mark and Carol are appalled at what they have learnt about the film,” says a friend of the family. “They think it sounds like some Left-wing fantasy. They feel strongly about it, but will not speak publicly for fear of giving it more publicity.”

There may be something else about the screenplay that is offensive to the family, but if so, it’s not reported here. If this is all there is to it, I’m puzzled. Baroness Thatcher is suffering from dementia. It’s not a secret, nor, surely, should it be a source of shame. It’s a terrible disease, not a character flaw. Carol Thatcher herself has written about the agony of explaining to her mother repeatedly that her husband is dead. This is legitimately part of the biography of Margaret Thatcher, not a Left-wing fantasy.

Cameron McCracken, the managing director of the film-maker Pathé, confirms: “It is true that the film is set in the recent past and that Baroness Thatcher does look back on both the triumphs and the lows of her extraordinary career.

“It is a film about power and the price that is paid for power. In that sense, it is the story of every person who has ever had to balance their private life with their public career.”

I don’t see how a film about Thatcher could fail to treat these themes. Using the vehicle of retrospection is a common artistic device and probably a shrewd one. It is obviously poignant that none of Thatcher’s achievements and none of her worldly power could protect her from her fate. Some of the greatest works of literature are meditations on the limits of political power, are they not?

Of course it’s still possible that the screenplay is Left-wing garbage. But I certainly wouldn’t conclude so from this.