'The Iron Lady,' a new biopic starring Meryl Streep as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has drawn an angry response from friends over its portrayal of Thatcher as a lonely figure sliding into dementia.
In the opening scenes, a frail Lady Thatcher is seen shuffling into a corner shop to buy milk and expressing shock at 21st-century prices. Back at her home, her security team worries that she has left the house unsupervised.
Another scene shows her oblivious to the fact that her husband, Sir Denis, is dead. She imagines him to be in the room and conducts conversations with him, before revisiting her glory years in a series of flashbacks.
Former colleagues have distanced themselves from the film, which is scheduled for release this December and is expected to garner a 17th Oscar nomination for Streep.
Lord Bell, who as Tim Bell was a key PR adviser to the Prime Minister throughout the 1980s, said: “I can’t be bothered to sensationalise this rubbish. I can’t see the point of this film. Its only value is to make some money for Meryl Streep and whoever wrote it. I have no interest in seeing it. I don’t need a film to remind me of my experiences of her. It is a non-event. It won’t make any difference to her place in history of the fact of what she did.”
One friend of Lady Thatcher said she would not watch the film. “She has not seen it. She never watches anything about herself in any case.”
The extent of Lady Thatcher’s mental decline was revealed by her daughter, Carol, in a 2008 memoir, who told how dementia and a series of minor strokes had reduced her mother to a shadow of her former self, struggling to finish sentences or to recognize family members.
Carol Thatcher also said that her mother frequently forgot that Sir Denis died in 2003. “I had to keep giving her the bad news over and over again,” she wrote.
Streep said she had approached the role with great empathy. “It took a lot out of me, but it was a privilege to play her, it really was. I still don’t agree with a lot of her policies. But I feel she believed in them and that they came from an honest conviction, and that she wasn’t a cosmetic politician just changing make-up to suit the times.”
The script was written by Abi Morgan, whose credits include 'The Hour,' the recent BBC period drama, and the award-winning 'Sex Traffic.' She has spoken little about 'The Iron Lady' except to say: “I think Thatcher fans will be pleasantly surprised.”