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THE IRON LADY

Interview With Abi Morgan
Is the fact that Margaret Thatcher's life is so well documented, with vast amounts of material available, a hindrance or help to you in telling this story?

The first thing you have to do is recognize that the film is a work of fiction. Any storytelling, even a biopic, is a work of fiction; we weren't there. When you read the many political biographies of the same time you realize that every one of them mythologizes and has a different take, looking from their own perspective. This film is very much her point of view, so for me it was about trying to get into her head and trying to be true to the character that I was creating. You have to choose carefully, because everyone has an opinion on her, and you are trying to find an authentic take on how she must have been feeling.

Can you outline the structure that you used?

I think what's interesting about Margaret Thatcher is that there is the public and the private and the tension between the two. I got very enamored with the idea of writing something set now, about the shadow of the former leader we knew as the Iron Lady.

I wanted to explore the idea of what it is like to be a king and to lose your power. The idea of a king who now has to make his own breakfast, shine his own crown, was very intriguing to me. Then it opened up wider questions about the notion of power, age, so thematically the film became something richer than simply a biopic.

What are the key themes for you?

I think a key theme is the journey to power and the reconciliation once that power is lost. There is something fascinating about someone who has come from nowhere, who has really achieved the peak in her career, and yet, inevitably is like anyone else; she is mortal and she fades. Her legacy may live on, but she still has to deal with her present, not only her past. The alchemy of the film was the tension between the past and the present.

Was it ever a love story to you?

At the film's heart there is a love story. When I looked at the idea of Denis as a ghost I realized that he is not a literal ghost; to me, he is a manifestation of her memory of her travelling partner, one she never let go of. Although Margaret has lost Denis, that relationship has never died for her.

When I started to research his life, it was obvious he was loyal, dependable and, although very traditional, he was very modern in his role of taking a back seat to her. To me there is something mythical that the relationship was sustained for such a long time, and a curiosity that any marriage, particularly a political marriage, survived. When you research him, there is a very clear image of his constant presence; as he is quoted as saying,

"Always present, never there." He was independent, and at the same time utterly supportive of her. I was intrigued by that relationship and felt it was a good vehicle through which to view the whole context of her life.

When you were writing the script, did you realize that everyone would have an opinion on this piece of work?

Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministerial period was intrinsic to my growing up, so I knew the film would cause a stir. I grew up in the North of England and saw the effects her policies had in the mining industries; I remember at university in 1990 there was dancing in the street when she left power, so I knew her legacy and that she was someone who was hated.

What has been interesting for me has been to adjust, revise and reconsider my opinion of her through the research I've done. As a result of working on the film, I can't help but have incredible respect for her, realizing what an incredibly strong leader she was. Her conviction was astonishing at times. To put her life in context has given me a much more balanced view of her than I had.

I hope it's a respectful and heartfelt and fair portrayal of her. I think it's a sensitive issue writing a film about someone who's still alive. It was always meant to be a dramatic interpretation of her life rather than a biopic. Even the speeches we hear Margaret delivering in the film are paraphrased versions of her original speeches, because the originals are owned by Thatcher herself and can't be replicated without her approval. So you get the sense of the interpretive quality of this film. It's not a documentary; it's a work of fiction.

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