Originally published on TellyBinge.
By Will Barber Taylor
Margaret Thatcher is one of the most controversial figures in British political history. Her name, if mentioned will usually be either spat out or said in a slightly wistful, nostalgic way. Whatever you think of her, Thatcher’s influence can be felt throughout not only modern politics but modern life in general. This is why a series like Thatcher: A Very British Revolution is important – to fully comprehend why Thatcher was able to change Britain so thoroughly and cause divisions that are still felt decades later it is crucial to examine how she came to power and the tactics that she used to enable it.
The documentary depicts Thatcher’s rise to power through interviews with many of the key players of the period such as Lord Heseltine and also through archival clips of Thatcher in the late 70s. Both ensure that we get a clear picture of the period and allows us to understand the period as a whole, rather than simply from statements at the time which were inaccurate or from memories that may have forgotten something that happened in the past.
One element that is key to the success of the documentary is that it allows us to understand how Thatcher was so successful in a period mired by sexism and falling Conservative popularity. Though the documentary’s subject is not one that is necessarily fresh, it still ensures its audience attention is held by focussing not just on Thatcher but also those who helped her to achieve power.
Not only is Satchi and Satchi’s reworking of Thatcher’s style mentioned but so too is the pivotal role played by Sir Gordon Reece, the mastermind behind the Conservative Party’s victory in the 1979 General Election. The documentary perfectly presents the influence of Reece on how Thatcher formed her public image, one that made her distinct and attractive to voters sceptical of her and the party she led. Rather than allowing the documentary to be engulfed in ideological debate, the presentation techniques and how Thatcher played off of the dissatisfaction felt by Tory MPs in the Conservative leadership election and then the dissatisfaction felt by voters in the run up to the 1979 General Election are skilfully depicted.
This allows the documentary to have a unique framework by which to tell the story of Thatcher’s period in power – from the second episode onward, which details Thatcher’s time in government, the documentary illuminates the ways in which Thatcher’s skill at manipulation and determination that she was right allowed her to govern Britain with a steeliness that bordered on her being detached and compassionless.
Whether you love or hate Margaret Thatcher, her story is one that is worth being told, not least because it allows us to understand why Britain is in the position that it is today. The series never attempts to paint Thatcher in a compassionate light; both those who knew her, and her enemies admit that she could be cold and lacking in empathy. Yet what the series achieves is that it allows its viewers to understand why Margaret Thatcher was able to dominate British politics for so long and how she changed the nation that she led forever.