The Iron Lady should have been delayed: PM
January 07, 2012 12:00:00 AM
Prime Minister David Cameron says "The Iron Lady" should have been delayed until after Margaret Thatcher's death, as the film showing the former premier in the grip of dementia opened in Britain.

The biopic starring Meryl Streep depicts Thatcher as a frail, often confused old lady -- she is now 86 and is rarely seen in public -- looking back at her career, and hallucinating the presence of her late husband Denis.

Cameron, in his first comment on the film, said he had been impressed by streep's portrayal of Britain's first woman prime minister, who like him was a leader of the centre-right conservative party.

But he questioned whether it was right to make the film while Thatcher was still alive.

"It's a fantastic piece of acting by Meryl Streep but I just can't help wondering why do we have to have this film right now?" he told BBC radio.

"It is a film much more about ageing and elements of dementia rather than about an amazing prime minister, and my sort of sense was -- a great piece of acting, a really staggering piece of acting, but a film I wish they could have made another day."

In Paris with director Phyllida Lloyd to promote the film, Streep defended the decision to show Thatcher in her present frail condition.

"We portray her with dementia, she suffers from one of the 41 types of dementia," the actress, who is tipped to win the third Oscar of her career for her performance, told a press conference.

"There's nothing in our imaginary depiction of dementia that is disrespectful of the condition, or of her."

"I must say to the prime minister," Streep added, "if he is worried about her seeing the film, what about his saying on the radio that people should wait until she is dead! How must that make her feel?"

Streep suggested that Cameron's criticism of the film was due to "a special stigma attached to dementia that makes us feel as if it was distasteful, and should be hidden away."

"I defend it because it's life and it's the truth, and there is something very poignant about it in the context of the story we are trying to tell," she added.

"To play this women who was an icon of the right and a demon of the left, the interest was to find the human being there, and to locate her in the very quiet world of the present, of age," Streep said.

To show an ageing Thatcher, who is seen struggling to let go of her dead husband's belongings, was also a way to explore "how people "take leave of a large, turbulent life," Streep said.

Director Lloyd for her part defended the decision to make the film now, saying "30 years after she became prime minister is not too soon to put her big life on the screen."

Critics in Britain have praised Streep's acting, but have generally given the film a cooller reception, complaining that it skims over the tumultuous politics of the time and focuses too much on Thatcher's personality.

Others have said the film dilutes Thatcher's power as a politician by attempting to depict her as a feminine icon -- when in fact she rarely included any women in her cabinet, and preferred the company of men.

The Times' reviewer Kate Muir criticised the film's "emphasis on feminism over politics" which left the Thatcher years "almost unrecognisable."

Michael White, a journalist for the left-wing Guardian who covered Thatcher at the height of her power, suggested that the film should have been called "The Rusty Lady", given its unsparing portrayal of Thatcher in later life.

He, too, argued that the film sought to portray Thatcher as something she was not, saying she was "not a satisfactory feminist icon. She could have promoted women... But didn't".