Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Friday, 6 January 2012
The Iron Lady in Parliament: Thatcher archive clips

By Ed Lowther
BBC Democracy Live

As The Iron Lady hits the multiplexes, Meryl Streep is being tipped for an Oscar for her portrayal of Baroness Thatcher.

But just how realistic is her rendition? To help you decide, BBC Democracy Live has compiled a series of parliamentary clips of the original Iron Lady.

Cameras were not allowed into the Commons until 1989, so recordings of many of the PM's speeches to Parliament are audio only.

3 April 1982: Falklands crisis prompts emergency debate


In the absence of video cameras, artists were deployed in the Commons to sketch MPs as they spoke

As she makes the decision to go to war in the Falklands in the film, Meryl Streep's Mrs Thatcher faces determined lobbying from defence chiefs, her cabinet colleagues and US Secretary of State Al Haig.

But this Newsnight report also illustrates the intense pressure she was under, in Parliament, in real life.

The special edition of Newsnight was broadcast on 3 April 1982, reporting on a highly unusual Saturday sitting of the Commons which enabled MPs to discuss the outbreak of the Falklands war.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher opened the debate (an extract of which can be found two minutes into the video above), explaining why the UK had failed to foresee and prevent the Argentine incursion on the islands.

14 June 1982: 'White flags over Port Stanley'

Mrs Thatcher announced victory in the Falklands after a six-week campaign.

In real life, the announcement was welcomed by Labour leader Michael Foot, who said it would prompt "widespread, genuine rejoicing". He congratulated Mrs Thatcher and drew attention to the "many fruitful lessons in diplomacy" that could be drawn from the affair.

Yet the film's version of Mr Foot appears despondent at the news and is accused by Meryl Streep's Iron Lady of "carping" and failing to recognise that it was a day "to take pride in being British".

Artistic licence, maybe, but it is also a vivid distillation into a short sequence of the political capital that accrued to the Conservatives in the aftermath of the war.

19 April 1983: 'Frightened! Frit!'

A relatively humdrum Commons exchange on inflation descended into chaos as deputy Labour leader Denis Healey advises Mrs Thatcher to "cut and run".

The intervention, shouted out while Mr Foot puts questions to the PM, prompted a rare loss of composure from Mrs Thatcher, who accused Mr Healey of being "frightened!" and, more colloquially, "frit!" of the prospect of an election.

The tone of such exchanges is faithfully represented in the film's scene where Mr Foot, played by Michael Pennington, charges the government with letting "the rich get richer" and believing that "the poor are irrelevant".

There is also a nod to the "frightened" line in a flashback of Mrs Thatcher's past Commons appearances that features towards the end of the film.

29 March 1990: Poll tax row escalates


Mrs Thatcher and Mr Kinnock clashed at prime minister's questions over the government's bid to introduce a poll tax

In this video, Neil Kinnock, Mr Foot's successor as opposition leader, dismissed as "claptrap" Mrs Thatcher's defence of the poll tax, a flat-rate tax which would be levied on every adult in the UK.

Days after this Commons clash, riots broke out in central London as opponents of the plans took to the streets to make their views known.

Former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, then a backbench MP and opponent of the poll tax, challenged Mrs Thatcher for the Conservative Party leadership later in the year.

The film focuses on the rioting and the intra-party tensions that pre-empted the end of Mrs Thatcher's political career, and leaves Mr Kinnock out of the narrative entirely.

The Guardian's Mike White wonders whether this is because the producers wanted to "keep it simple for American audiences".

30 October 1990: 'No! No! No!'


On her return from the Rome Summit of European Community leaders, at which talks on farm subsidies had collapsed, Mrs Thatcher faced a grilling from Mr Kinnock on the UK's relationship with Europe

Mrs Thatcher famously had three words about European Commission President Jacques Delors' aim to make the European Parliament the most powerful democratic institution in Europe: "No! No! No!"

Her stance played well in some quarters of the popular press - two days later, the Sun's front page headline read "Up yours, Delors".

But it would come back to haunt her. Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned his post two weeks later, arguing that her attitude towards Europe was a "tragedy" that was "running increasingly serious risks for the future of our nation".

Mr Howe's devastating resignation speech to the Commons features in the film, although it is portrayed as having been prompted more by workplace bullying than any specific policy differences. The original speech can be found on this page.

Homage is also paid to Mrs Thatcher's decisive repetition of the word "no" in the Iron Lady, albeit in a different context: interestingly, it is directed at US Secretary of State Al Haig rather than European federalists.

22 November 1990: 'I'm enjoying this!'


Mrs Thatcher defiantly upbraids the Labour Party in her final Commons speech as PM

Margaret Thatcher, having announced her intention earlier in the day to resign as prime minister, faced a vote of no confidence in the Commons and defended her record in office in what would turn out to be her final speech at the despatch box.

After a shaky start, Mrs Thatcher warmed to her theme.

In this extract, taken from the middle of a speech that does not appear in the film, the prime minister comes out fighting on one of the issues that had contributed most to her downfall: Europe.

Reviewing the Iron Lady, BBC political editor Nick Robinson concludes that Mrs Thatcher's "friends won't like the personal aspects of this film. Her enemies won't like the political - essentially Thatcherite - take on history."

But perhaps friend and foe would agree that the film successfully conveys the resolute character and oratorical skill evident in these archive clips.


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