“The Iron Lady” and the Truth About Aging We’re Afraid to Face

As I watched Meryl Streep accept the Academy Award for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”, I reflected the following reactions I had to the movie:

  1. How did Meryl Streep literally transform herself into Margaret Thatcher?  (It’s truly unbelievable)
  2. Even though I’d been in high school, college, and even lived in England briefly during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister, I’d forgotten how tumultuous and violent that period had been. It puts today’s global economic turmoil into perspective.
  3. I completely understand why Margaret Thatcher would imagine that her beloved husband, Dennis, was still alive long after he’d died. I’d probably do the same.
  4. And finally, no matter how rich and powerful we may be at one time in our lives and careers, we all grow old. None of us will escape it. I hope the contrast between Margaret Thatcher’s ascent to power and her eventual descent into dementia finally sparks an important conversation about the truth of aging.

So, imagine my surprise when I read reviews of the film that expressed the absolute opposite response. Commentators were dismayed over the portrayal of her advancing dementia. They felt it was “unkind,” “unnecessary, “despicable.”

While I respect the desire to focus solely on the noteworthy and sometimes controversial achievements of Prime Minister Thatcher, her aging is also part of the story.

As Meryl Streep explained so eloquently when she received the best actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her role (link to video):

(The goal of the film was) to look at the life of the Iron Lady inside and out and to locate something real, maybe hidden, but truthful in the life of someone we all decided we know everything about already.”

If we can’t witness the entire arc of the life of one of the most powerful leaders in modern history, how can we begin to grapple what the later stage of life will require of us personally, of our families, and of our society? To me, doing so doesn’t take away from achievement and contributions; it only makes them more human.

What do you think? How can we become more comfortable discussing all of the stages of life and work? Our own, but also of those we love? Does it matter?


REIMAGINE how, when, and where WORK is done Today...and Tomorrow

Receive Cali Williams Yost's weekly insights on High Performance Flexibility.