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
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
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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