Last Night's TV: Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, BBC4

She knew how to get the party started

Sooner or later, every politician gets rehabilitated – or at any rate, the edge wears down on whatever ill will was held. Genghis Khan, maker of widows, despoiler of nations, can now be the subject of an admiring film that paints him as a sensitive and dedicated family man. One day, people will talk about Hitler with amused tolerance, and Stalin's main claim to fame will be as an icon for moustache wearers. Not that any of these cases is strictly relevant to Margaret Thatcher, who was, after all, democratically elected and is still admired by millions. But at the liberal-left end of things, she was loathed with extraordinary unanimity and ferocity, and it's interesting, that now, 18 years after she left office, she is becoming a darling of the media. The most recent issue of Vogue tried, in the face of common sense, to promote her as a "style icon" (mind you, the issue before had a piece about how Gordon Brown has been transformed from "dour, brooding Chancellor to genial PM", so this is clearly not an organ whose views on politics you're forced to take seriously). And now along strolls Margaret Thatcher: the Long Walk to Finchley, an account of her early career in politics by Tony Saint that manages to be both pro-Thatcher and anti-Tory, a trick previously regarded as too risky to be attempted by anyone outside a New Labour Cabinet.

Saint's strategy here was to treat Thatcher's actual political views as insignificant; what mattered was that she was not posh and, most importantly, a woman. This was brave Margaret's battle against the buffers, struggling from constituency to constituency in search of one that didn't want a war hero as its prospective parliamentary candidate, didn't assume that women are hysterical creatures whose place is, as one hostile old biddy put it, in the home, not the House. At several points in the drama, she was seen giving speeches to selection meetings, which contained windy versions of her views on trade unions and the Red menace. But it was clear that the constituency politicos weren't interested in these things – they responded with questions about local pothole black spots – and the film didn't really give us any chance to be, either. What we were supposed to be noticing was her conviction and sincerity, and the tutting and eyebrow-raising of old-fashioned buffers and matrons who couldn't look beyond her sex.

A case can be made for Thatcher as representing socially progressive forces. Michael Portillo made it after the film, in Dinner with Portillo, complaining that the Conservatives haven't been given the credit they deserve for electing a woman leader (perhaps that's why they've retreated now into their Old Etonian comfort zone). I'm not convinced. The essence of Thatcherism was a belief that success comes from individual effort, and surely she saw her own career as proof of that, rather than a blow for women in general. The Long Walk to Finchley papered over the cracks in its argument with a comic tone, implying that we weren't to take any of this seriously. Some of the jokes were neat. At a party function, the young Margaret, still only an aspiring MP, found herself dancing with Ted Heath, now safely elected – "You lead, I'll follow," she told him, for the only time in her life. At other times, anticipations of future events were contrived: young Mark Thatcher snatched his twin sister's copy of The Jungle Book – "When are you ever going to go to the jungle?" (If you don't get that, it's because you didn't follow Carol's success in I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, and you can award yourself a gold star.) After that, when a family day out at the seaside ended with Denis announcing that Mark had got himself lost among the dunes, my main emotion was weary relief that we'd got that one over with.

Even at its most jolly and watchable, it was hard to see what it had to do with the real Margaret Thatcher. The casting of the lovely, kittenish Andrea Riseborough was problematic; although she rose at times to a pretty convincing impression of Thatcher's hectoring tone and glassy gaze, she couldn't rid herself of a touch of irony – I never had any sense of the solid core of Methodist certainty. Elsewhere, the casting was erratic. While Samuel West managed a faintly uncanny reminiscence of Heath, both pompous and uncertain, Rory Kinnear's Denis was inexplicably lower class, with faintly strangulated vowels that sounded more like John Major than a successful post-war businessman who had come through prep and public school. This was one example among many of the drama's poor sense of its period, along with some cloth-eared dialogue: Denis asked Margaret, "How does that grab you?"; Margaret told constituency workers that there were "no no-go areas".

At odd times, I managed to suspend my disbelief long enough to start enjoying the story, but was always jerked back to consciousness by some clunking implausibility. As a serious enquiry into the most influential woman in the past century of British history, this was a non-starter. But as an ice-breaker, the start of a conversation about Thatcherism that doesn't degenerate into yah-boo-sucks, it was unmissable.

r.hanks@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker