Bernard Ingham: No film can get close to spirit of real Iron Lady

IT is ages since I went to the cinema. And then we walked out – it was on a cruise liner – because we could not make head or tail of the reputedly English dialogue.

In any case what use have I for the magic lantern when I am surrounded by real-life drama?

What could me more gripping than the futile saga of the European lemmings in fractious defence of the debt-laden single currency that atavistically brings out all the national prejudices nurtured by centuries of conflict?

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You will gather from this that I have not seen Meryl Streep’s reported Oscar-bound triumph as Margaret Thatcher in Hollywood’s The Iron Lady. Nor have I any intention or inclination to do so this happy New Year.

Some will say that this is because I do not apparently have a part in the film. That, I can assure you, is a blessing. The last time I saw (video) extracts from a Thatcher film, I switched off after 20 minutes because my brief appearances were so ludicrously inaccurate.

I do have serious reservations about the apparent structure of the film using a demented 86 year-old Thatcher looking back on various episodes in her Prime Ministership.

First, she is not demented when I see her. She takes a lively interest in what I have to tell her about the latest follies and, while prevented by loss of short-term memory from cross-examining and arguing with me, she clearly shows her frustration in wishing to do so. She invariably ends up wanting to know how we got into this mess and how we are going to get out of it. Just like old times.

Second, I have no wish to see anyone I respect portrayed as a declined force. It seems unnecessarily intrusive. It is all the worse when, so I am told, she is shown going on her own to a shop in a headscarf. The very idea that her security officers would allow her out of their sight outside her door is risible.

Third, I do not see why I should contribute to a commercial enterprise that exploits her memory – and her lack of it – for profit, least of all while she is alive.

Of course, there will be lots of people who will say I am just being my curmudgeonly, cantankerous, tight-fisted Yorkshire self. I confess that my genes are still functioning as awkwardly as ever.

I must also admit to a certain morbid fascination in finding out for oneself how far the film-makers have mangled history. But that would just be another source of pain and, since old age is not for weaklings, I could do without it.

But my fundamental reason for standing aside is that I do not need others to tell me what she and it was like during that traumatic but triumphant decade called the Eighties. I lived it from beginning to end.

Meryl Streep may be the world’s best actress. She may more or less look the part and give a stunning performance, even if Edwina Currie says she has not got Thatcher’s walk right. But it will not be – it cannot be – anything like the real thing except perhaps fleetingly and co-incidentally.

Nobody, other than those who have worked with her, can, for example, know the full depths of Mrs T’s tremendously successful lack of tact. Early on she told me, a reporter for 18 years, that journalists are “brittle, insubstantial people who spend their time criticising others who are trying”. Thank God, she took so little interest in the media. It was an enormous strength.

Her very first words to Mr Gorbachev were: “I hate Communism… but if you Russians must have it, you’re entitled to have it, secure within your own borders.” They never looked back.

As for men, how’s this for her considered dismissal in The Downing Street Years: “My experience is that a number of men I have dealt with in politics demonstrate precisely those characteristics which they attribute to women – vanity and an inability to take tough decisions… They are quite prepared to make every allowance for the ‘weaker sex’: but if a woman asks no special privileges and expects to be judged solely by what she is and does, this is found gravely and unforgivably distressing.”

Apparently, a group of Leftie women who were looking forward to dancing on her grave have been induced to praise the Dominatrix after seeing The Iron Lady. This worries me intensely. Where have they been all their blinkered, sheltered lives? Happy New Year.