Families across the world will be touched by this portrayal of dementia

First published online at Daily Mail: Rightminds


Last night I wept as I watched ‘The Iron Lady’. As I am sure thousands of others across the country will be, I was deeply moved by the beautiful portrayal of our greatest post-war Prime Minister. If you have had a parent or grandparent who has times of memory loss, who doesn’t recognise themselves in a picture, whose episodes of happy forgetfulness are suddenly shattered by the raw reality of grief or disability then you too will be moved. That the person in question in this film is Lady Thatcher, who blazed a trail for women and rescued our country from economic disaster, makes it all the more poignant.

Many people have been critical, said to feel uncomfortable with this portrayal of Lady Thatcher while she is still alive, saying it is insensitive, unkind. My problem with that is inconsistency. I don’t recall hearing such objections when the film ‘The Queen’ was made with all the sensitivities of the Royal Family’s reaction to Princess Diana’s death and the issue of modernisation. And the significant difference here is simply the dementia.

For one in five of us who make it beyond the age of 80 will suffer with dementia. It is a mental illness over which we have no control. Frailty and increasing dependency will come to us all. And there is no shame in this. Mrs Thatcher’s mantra while in power was about getting things done – what we do – not with being someone. This is a challenge to us in our celebrity obsessed culture, but we also need to remember that there is a whole spectrum of ‘doing’. What Lady Thatcher can do now is very different from what she was able to do in the 1980’s, but that doesn’t make her any less significant, or any less human. It doesn’t diminish her achievements or who she still is. It didn’t diminish Reagan. We come into the world utterly dependent and most of us will leave highly dependent, and there is dignity and tenderness in this need.

What message would it send to society if films were only made about people’s ‘golden years’? That their time of fame was all that mattered? That once someone is out of the limelight, for whatever reason, they lose their worth? I believe director Phillida Lloyd has done us all a service, and told a love story that happens to feature one of the most famous and successful women in the world. Lady Thatcher is still loved, still deserves to be revered, and her dementia makes no difference to that.


About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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