OWhat happens when the BBC gets rid of all the wacky lefties and liberal snowflakes who pollute the airwaves with their jokes and nonsense? It might sound a bit like Thatcher & Reagan: A Very Special Relationship (BBC Two), a respectful, if not particularly gripping, two-part documentary that tells the story of the eight years that the two leaders ruled their nations together. time. time. It is written and presented by Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, who also wrote the three volumes of Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biography.
This first episode covers Thatcher’s rise to power, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and the Falklands War, with a bit of nuclear feud for good measure. Moore argues the couple had the vision and the time in power to imagine the end of the Cold War that had been brewing for more than 30 years and which most world leaders saw as something to accept rather than attempt to change. Reagan and Thatcher were dedicated Cold War warriors, Moore suggests, who worked together to stand up to the Soviet Union and, in doing so, changed the course of history. “They saw the beginning of the end of the Cold War, as the world emerged from the shadow of nuclear Armageddon,” he tells a TV audience still facing a 24-hour news cycle. composed of east-west tensions and the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Maybe the documentary was made last summer.
According to Malcolm Rifkind, who first served under Thatcher as an assistant minister in the Foreign Office and is one of many interviewed here, Thatcher’s steely public image as the “Iron Lady” actually comes from a Soviet newspaper. While the program’s abandonment of the nuclear threat might seem horribly dated, it’s not a terrible time to revise 1980s history, especially as Moore digs into US pipeline sanctions. Siberian and the divided response to that in Europe.
But it is a film in love with its subjects. While last week’s Channel 4 documentary on the Falklands conflict used its insider access to find revelations about the conflict, this documentary does nothing but admire Reagan and Thatcher. It’s almost entirely uncritical, with the exception of Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s chief press secretary, roughly admitting that the early years of her tenure were “disastrous”, and Moore explaining that just after his first election, there was a sense that it would only last one term. Otherwise, almost everyone interviewed seems impressed by his ferocity and uncompromising nature. Reagan, too, gets off lightly, with the documentary claiming there was a perception that he was “very good an actor”, lacking in brains at first, before his communication skills began to shine.
There are some attempts at a cowardly psychoanalysis of what Reagan and Thatcher saw in each other. Reagan, apparently, was close to his mother and attracted to “convincing women”, while Thatcher “wanted to admire a man…she wanted to admire a man”. A talking head suggests they were two lone operators, but once they found each other, “they were never alone again.” Hmm. There’s been a slew of outstanding political and historical documentaries on the BBC over the past two years, from Once Upon a Time in Iraq to Blair & Brown: The New Labor Revolution, but it’s much more comfortable and much less in-depth .
This is a traditional documentary stuffed to the gills of the people who were there. Unsurprisingly, given his decades in journalism and his previous biographies, Moore has access to those inside, and many contributors were at the table, or at least very close, during the crucial moments of the friendship. and the friendship of Thatcher and Reagan. political relationship. He often greets his interlocutors with a familiar tone; he is a man who makes the most of his relationships.
It’s the kind of understated series that serves an educational purpose, up to a point, and if you wanted fireworks and melodrama about a ruthless leader brought down by hubris, then you’d watch the Peaky finale. Blinders, on BBC One. But because of his traditional approach, I found myself under the influence of what I call “the Cunk effect”, which casts a shadow over documentaries like this. Whenever a presenter is shown wandering down a street as if unaware of the camera, or taking a moment to think, the camera lingering on his thinking face, I vaguely wonder when a Diane Morgan voiceover comes in, giving us the full Philomena Cunk experience. It’s far too sensible a documentary for that, of course. But I would have liked to watch it.