There is an excellent review by Dave Douglass (a man who knows a thing or two about the horrors of Thatcherism from the sharp end) of The Iron Lady in the CPGB's Weekly Worker.
I wrote somewhat sceptically about Aung San Suu Kyi's BBC Reith Lecture last year. Now Luc Besson's Suu Kyi biopic The Lady is in cinemas. The film depicts the struggles of Suu Kyi and her political party National League for Democracy against the military régime (it's always 'régime' for them and 'government' for us, remember) that murdered her father, the British-installed Aung San, and kept her under house arrest with only infrequent visits from her two sons and her English husband - an Oxford professor and, it would seem from this film, a perfect klutz in the kitchen.
The film begins bloodily with the assassination of Suu Kyi’s father in Rangoon in 1947. Despite this early violence, its neatly dichotomized moral universe makes the film eminently suitable for children. The non-military population of Burma is good and craves democracy; but the military junta is evil. These rotters hate democracy – although there are signs that even some of the bad guys are susceptible to the saintly Suu’s democratic spell (admittedly, I did find the scene where the ASSK introduces one of the soldiers keeping her under house arrest to liberatory political slogans quite moving). There is also an absurdly superstitious Really Nasty General whose fortuneteller ill-fatedly predicts that a spirit is coming to heal the land – a plot device I haven’t seen handled with such subtlety since Kung Fu Panda 2. Ultimately, the film delivers the inspiring message that with the support of enough domestic servants, monks and history professors (and, one imagines, CIA agents) on your side, Freedom Will Come.
The film really does dodge all of the big questions. Determined to visit a remote mountain area of Burma to spread her people power message, Suu Kyi remarks to her party colleagues: ‘democracy only works when everybody is included’. But Besson shows no interest in explaining how or why Suu Kyi’s Western-backed government would achieve such inclusion better than the Chinese-backed junta. In the end, we are simply asked to believe that all will be well with the Burmese state so long as a Really Nice Woman is at the helm (for variations on this frankly sexist myth see the BBC’s The Amazing Mrs Pritchard or the Danish political drama Borgen, which is currently being broadcast on BBC4).
The film's dialogue is stilted and often comically bathetic. At one point the professor says to his wife, à propos of her house arrest: 'let's pray that this limbo is short-lived'. Later, at the start of one of the couple's cherished telephone calls, he remarks 'what a tonic to hear your voice', while his maid, on hearing of the Burmese authorities' refusal to allow the professor to see his wife, opines that: 'it beggars belief, it really does'. Despite the script's banalities, The Lady is technically proficient. Michelle Yeo is outstanding as ASSK and David Thewlis plays the mild-mannered professor convincingly. The cinematography is workmanlike and respectful (parallel overhead shots, for example, link the killing of Aung San and Suu Kyi's breakdown, four decades later, on hearing of the death of her husband, while slow motion sequences add grandeur to Suu's political speeches). But the narrative's elision of historical and political complexities is painfully apparent. And let's face it - if it's evil Burmese junta action you're after, the last Rambo film was a lot more fun.
It looks like I was right to predict that Besson would deliver a political hagiography. My success here encourages me to dust off my crystal ball and speculate on some forthcoming films. Next up for me is the Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. My hunch is that, like Besson's film, it will tell the story of a feisty woman who was determined never to give up on her dreams and do the right thing for her country.
Like masturbation and listening to Keane, watching television programmes presented by Dominic Littlewood should probably be done sparingly, if at all. These days, though, it is harder than ever to avoid the gnome-like Essexian: turn on daytime or primetime television on any weekday and up pops the cheeky bald geezer, perkily - yet obscurely menacingly - advising on car purchases, home auctions or consumer affairs. Indeed, over recent years, Littlewood has become a 'type', in the Lukascian sense, a concretisation of the Little Englander prejudices of every market-town Mussolini.
Anyway, last week's episode of the BBC's Fake Britain (series 2, episode 14) was one of the most mean-spirited and mendacious 'factual' programmes I have ever watched. The episode focused on so-called 'fake' immigrants, following UK Border Agency raids on restaurants employing 'illegal' workers. Throughout the programme, Littlewood mocked the immigrants with sarcastic comments and told us nothing about their life stories or sufferings.
Such anti-immigrant fare is not unusual on British television (Sky's UK Border Force, for instance, follows a very similar format). But what was particularly hard to stomach about the Fake Britain 'exposé' was its implicit comparison of immigrants to criminal scammers in the programme's central section, which focused on a Suffolk pensioner who had fallen for a well-organised fake inheritance scam. So: people who have travelled thousands of miles in the back of lorries, risking life and limb in order to have a measure of security in their lives, are equivalent to professional fraudsters? The cynicism of this comparison would have made Goebbels blush.
BBC television is still capable of great things; but it's not all Jonathan Meades and Sherlock - and those who argue that 'public service' broadcasting is superior to its commercial competitors should be encouraged to take a brief dip in this televisual effluent. Anybody disposed to doing so should heed the warning issued by Littlewood at the start of each episode: 'welcome to a world where nothing is quite as it seems'. For what presents itself as an innocuously diverting consumer affairs programme is in fact a scurrilous exercise in immigrant-bashing.