Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dividing British, Even at Home

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Dividing British, Even at Home

Article excerpt

"The Iron Lady" has prompted a new season of passionate debate in Britain about what the Thatcher years created.

It is a poignant story, and the sparse audiences at the Reel Cinema, a few blocks from the handsome 18th-century facades of the town center, tell it as well as anything else.

Here in Margaret Thatcher's hometown, a stolid, hard-working sort of place in the flatlands of Lincolnshire that played its part in forming Mrs. Thatcher's no-nonsense, spare-me-the-excuses character, there is not a lot of fuss, nor much in the way of sentiment, to be found about the woman who went on to become the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century.

Only on afternoons when the theater offers retirees half-price tickets has there been much of a crowd for "The Iron Lady," the controversial film about Mrs. Thatcher, who is now 86. On both sides of the Atlantic, it has won rave reviews for Meryl Streep's performance in the lead role -- offset by criticism of the film's focus on Mrs. Thatcher's often humiliating battle in recent years with dementia.

That view found echoes among the moviegoers, though some noted that the film had prompted a succession of the former prime minister's friends and associates to say that the portrayal, though unkind, is not wholly inaccurate. One former minister, Jonathan Aitken, has said that Mrs. Thatcher, at a recent London party, appeared perplexed at the mention of David Cameron, as though she did not recognize that he is the current Conservative prime minister.

Beyond that controversy, the film has prompted a new season of passionate debate in Britain about the political legacy of the Thatcher years, measured by a rush of commentary that has shown how little the opposing poles of opinion, the admiration and the vituperation, have relented since 1990. That was the year when a revolt among her own cabinet ministers and Mrs. Thatcher's famous House of Commons shout of "No! No! No!" on any further integration with Europe brought an end to her premiership after 11 years.

In Grantham, 120 miles, or 190 kilometers, north of London on the route to Scotland, the debate has been less vigorous, but the poles are here, too. For every resident who spoke admiringly of the way "Mrs. T" handled the big issues -- the battles with the unions, the retrenchment of the postwar welfare state, the Falklands war, the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union -- there were two or three others who disparaged her as too bossy, too uncaring toward society's have-nots and too little interested in tending to her Grantham roots.

Even in the red-brick shop on the corner where she grew up as a grocer's daughter, the mood was dyspeptic. Only a modest plaque marks the building as "The birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

The old grocery, once a laboratory for the shopkeeper's economics that became a hallmark of Thatcherism, now serves as the Living Health Chiropractic Clinic and Holistic Retreat, offering marine algae body wraps and hypnotherapy treatments. …

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