Virginia Postrel on the Anti-Feminism of the New Thatcher Film, The Iron Lady


Former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel's Bloomberg columns are must-reads.

This time around, she casts a sharp eye on the way the new biopic about Margaret Thatcher imposes a bourgeois dilemma on the life of one of the most important leaders of the past century.

Hollywood has no trouble with public women as long as they are hereditary monarchs, who have no choice about their role. It can deal with the power of Elizabeth I, who had to rule to survive. But the more democratic, liberal power that arises from the combination of ambition, competence and popular appeal—the power of a Margaret Thatcher … is more problematic. A grocer's daughter who becomes prime minister could be anyone (even if she is in fact an extraordinarily gifted person). Her ambition thus casts doubt on the audience's own choices, or at the very least poses an alternative to them. Some people do in fact die regretting their unfulfilled ambitions and uncompleted work….

In an interview with, screenwriter Abi Morgan described "The Iron Lady" as a "very feminist film," noting that it had a female writer, director and star. She also acknowledged Thatcher's "extraordinary" ability to combine homemaking and child-rearing first with her legal studies and later with her political career. "What's interesting about her," Morgan said, "is that I don't think she felt the guilt that I think we feel. I think there's an inherent guilt that most people feel. The thing I think most women struggle with mostly is feeling guilty."

These supposedly feminist filmmakers could have portrayed Thatcher as an ambitious woman who had nothing to feel guilty about. Instead they chose to inject guilt where it did not belong. They obscured Thatcher's public accomplishments in a fog of private angst. The portrait of dementia isn't the problem. The way the film uses old age to punish a lifetime of accomplishment is.

Read the whole thing.