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Walter Rodgers

Maggie vs. Gorby: the scene that ‘The Iron Lady’ forgot

The scripted and unscripted confrontations between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev were of such epic consequence they could not be condensed into film. Yet we do Britain’s first female prime minister a great disservice in omitting them.

By Walter Rodgers / February 9, 2012

Oscar nominee Meryl Streep portrays British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a scene from the film 'The Iron Lady.' Columnist Walter Rodgers chides the film for leaving out 'Thatcher’s greatest tour de force': her duels with Mikhail Gorbachev, which he credits as 'beginning of the end of the cold war.'

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When I saw Oscar nominee Meryl Streep star as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the film “The Iron Lady,” she was so convincing, I was no longer sure whom I was watching, Maggie or Meryl. 

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I admit my prejudice. As an ABC News correspondent in London, I covered Mrs. Thatcher during the 1982 Falklands War and later during her several duels with Mikhail Gorbachev, dubbed Gorby. 

Regrettably, however, the film does not include Thatcher’s greatest tour de force. I suspect screenwriter Abi Morgan probably just could not fit the Iron Lady’s finest hour into the 105-minute celluloid canvas.

Thatcher, more so than Ronald Reagan, was the Western intellectual engine that pushed against the Soviet Union until the Communist Party leadership imploded in 1991.

President Reagan’s loathing of Soviet communism was visceral. He twisted the bear paw through America’s muscular defense spending. He was also the actor, waving the flag of freedom on a world stage.

By contrast, Thatcher was an unchallengeable cerebral force. She understood that the cold war confrontation between communism and the West was less about freedom and more about justice. Intuitively she knew the genius of American statesman Adlai Stevenson’s words that “communism is the corruption of a dream of justice.”

The face-to-face meetings between Thatcher and Mr. Gorbachev were the real beginning of the end of the cold war, though this was not appreciated at the time.

The scripted and unscripted confrontations between these two leaders were of such epic consequence they could not be condensed into film. Yet we do Britain’s first female prime minister a great disservice in omitting them.

GORBACHEV, THATCHER, BUSH, MITTERAND: World leaders recall the fall of the Berlin Wall

On Dec. 16, 1984, before Reagan ever met Gorbachev, it was Thatcher who pioneered the East-West dialogue that ultimately led to the thaw in relations between Washington and Moscow. It was she who, after her first meeting with Gorbachev at the prime minister’s country house of Chequers, pronounced, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business with him.” 

Gorbachev was not yet general secretary of the Communist Party, although he was widely rumored as a possible heir apparent. Senior Soviet Politburo members had sent their young, bright, and shining star off to Britain to test his mettle. He did not lack for confidence. The first Thatcher-Gorbachev meeting was a draw. The second, in Moscow, would not be.

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