WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
Margaret Thatcher rescues Britain from post-WWII socialist policies, liberating a generation from poverty and hopelessness, only to be betrayed in the end by entrenched establishment interests within her own party. [Dir: Martin Durkin/ 90 min/ Documentary/ Anti-socialism, Libertarian Heroes]
Margaret Thatcher did more to roll back the State—not only in Britain but, by her example, in other countries as well—than any other single politician of the twentieth century. This outstanding documentary is a journey of truth-telling about what she accomplished…and what it cost her.
As told here, following WWII and up until Thatcher’s initial decisive victory, Britain was ruled by a “post-war consensus,” essentially a political handshake between Right and Left to run the country from the center, for its own good. Britain became one of the most State-owned countries in the world, with most major industries nationalized and unionized. It also became the “sick man of Europe,” where nothing seemed to work. Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie says about those pre-Thatcher years “we were basically North Korea, but without the hope.”
Enter the Institute of Economic Affairs, a small group of Hayek-inspired activists, who set out to find and promote a candidate who could turn things around. They picked Margaret Thatcher, a well-spoken, academically-gifted Oxford graduate, and yet in some ways an unlikely candidate—a grocer’s daughter and mother of two, only lightly-tested in politics. The choice was risky, and made all the more so by Thatcher’s political plan of attack.
She “moved her tanks into the Labor Party’s front lawn,” pitching her free-market message not to traditional Tory voters, but to the working class. To the astonishment of all sides, she won in a landslide. Ordinary people didn’t want to be wards of the State; Thatcher’s message of a better, freer life appealed to them. She subsequently made good on her promises by privatizing housing, making it possible for people to own their own homes. This was followed by privatization of state industries with shares sold to ordinary people; the public clamored to buy in and sales were over-subscribed. Her vision of “every man and woman a capitalist” was winning.
But her free-market policies also had enemies. Unions had long established a stranglehold on the country, and privatization of money-losing industries meant fewer subsidized union jobs. In a pitched, ultimately violent battle, the coal-miners’ union attempted to cut off the nation’s coal. Thatcher refused to back down, the union lost, and her reforms—requiring membership approval for strikes—undermined union domination in Britain forever.
You learn all that here, most tellingly from a series of interviews that span the political spectrum. Her allies have much positive to say, but my favorite moment in the film is actually an interview of Thatcher’s arch-enemy, former Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. He is asked simply if Thatcher made Britain worse off during her term. His long, agonized silence, as he struggles to come up with a reply that doesn’t concede her obvious and widely-recognized success, is just priceless.
Of course Thatcher was ultimately deposed, one might say backstabbed, not by her enraged enemies on the Left, but by the traditional element of her own party, conservatives envious of her accomplishments and bitter at the loss of traditional crony capitalist protected businesses and markets that had been ripped away from them. She wasn’t “one of them,” they wanted her out, and ultimately they got their way.
Documentaries are, by definition, about facts, but really good documentaries also weave their facts together in such a way that they touch the heart; this is of that caliber. Seeing the liberation that Margaret Thatcher brought to Britain, the triumph of her determined efforts…and the tears streaming down her face as she learns of the backroom deal, the betrayal that expelled her from power, her story takes on the character of drama. She is a misunderstood, underappreciated hero, the object of scorn, who would for a generation be unfairly characterized as the Iron Lady who favored unrestrained capitalism at the expense of the poor. That she saved her country from a socialist death spiral is little known; her popular history has largely been written by her enemies. At last, with this documentary, there is at least one cinematic telling of her story that sets the record straight. I think Thatcher herself would have enjoyed it immensely.
External Reviews of Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary
“It’s not often you see a documentary that transforms the way you look at yourself and the world, but Durkin’s must-see masterpiece…had that effect on me. Though it presented its thesis as radical and counterintuitive — that Margaret Thatcher was no conservative but a working-class revolutionary — I’d say it made more sense than all the other Maggie tributes I’ve read put together.”
“SHUT your eyes and think of Margaret Thatcher (twin-set, hair-do, hand bag, smells nice) and Fidel Castro (combat fatigues, bushy beard, revolver, smells of backy). Which one is the firebrand working-class revolutionary? The answer, of course, is Mrs Thatcher. The vile tyrannt Castro enslaved and impoverished the lower orders in Cuba. Thatcher enriched and liberated them in Britain.”