Spectre of Thatcher still looms large over the UK


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The Independent Online

She was divisive in Downing Street, divisive at the polling booth and now, somewhat inevitably, she's proving divisive at the UK box office.

Early takings for The Iron Lady, the controversial Margaret Thatcher biopic that hit cinemas on Friday, suggest the film is doing better than expected. However, much like a certain lady, the film is not regarded quite so well further north.

Half of the film's audience came from the south or London. In the areas where Thatcher is still held responsible by many for wrecking mining communities and mass unemployment, it has received a cooler reception. Yorkshire, the Tyne Tees and the Borders regions combined represent less than 8 per cent of its total audience share.

The Iron Lady – which has been Oscar-tipped for Meryl Streep's eerily life-like lead performance – took £2.2m in its opening weekend, making it the third-highest-grossing film in the UK this week, after Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

But there are still those who will not see the film for any money. Facebook groups have been set up calling for a boycott and in Chesterfield, women involved in the miners' strikes of the 1980s – calling themselves "The Real Iron Ladies" – protested at a Cineworld complex, claiming the film is too soft on the former PM.

Hilary Cave, 64, who was the National Union of Mineworkers' Education Officer during the 1984 strike, said: "The government that Margaret Thatcher led was responsible for the mass unemployment, poverty and loss of community structure affected this area around the old colliery.

Her government told the police to be hard on the miners. I had to run from police horses at the picket lines. I saw the bruises on the backs of the miners. The film portrays her as a brave woman taking on the male establishment. But she was a macho character and she certainly did nothing at all for women."

The film has, however, proved popular in some unlikely places. Its second biggest opening outside London was in Glasgow and it also had a relatively strong showing in Ireland. A spokesman for the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle said that, despite many "grumbles" following the announcement the independent picture house would be showing the film, The Iron Lady had sold out every night. A spokesman said: "Whatever people want to think of Thatcher, they are still coming to see the film and making up their own minds." In some areas the film outperformed the opening weekend of that other high-grossing biopic of a British establishment figure, The King's Speech. The Iron Lady's distributor, Pathé, claimed that the film had attracted audiences regardless of politics or voting demographics.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "We released this film in the same way we would release any film. We didn't take politics into account – there weren't any no-go areas for distribution."

But a small number of independent cinemas are not showing it. A spokeswoman for The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds said, diplomatically, that the film wasn't "quite the right fit" for them.

The cinema will, however, shortly be showing an independent film called Margaret, about a young American girl who is involved in a road accident.

The film only had a limited release in the United States and has only showed at one cinema in the UK this year, but the Hyde Park Picture House has made the decision, political or otherwise, to prioritise it over the other Margaret. Thatcher, that is.