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 Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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