Wit happens when the BBC gets rid of all the awake left-wing and liberal snowflakes that pollute the airwaves with their jokes and nonsense? It might look a bit like Thatcher & Reagan: A Very Special Relationship (BBC Two), a respectful, if not very exciting, two-part documentary that tells the story of the eight years in which the two leaders ruled their nations at the same time. time. It is written and presented by Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator, who also wrote all three volumes of Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biography.
This first episode covers Thatcher’s takeover, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and the Falklands War, with a bit of a nuclear quarrel for the sake of good order. Moore argues that the couple had the vision and time in office to imagine an end to the Cold War that had simmered for more than 30 years and that most world leaders saw as something to accept, rather than try to change. Reagan and Thatcher were dedicated warriors in the Cold War, suggests Moore, who worked together to stand up to the Soviet Union and thus changed the course of history. “They saw the beginning of the end of the Cold War when the world emerged from the shadow of the nuclear Armageddon,” he tells a TV audience still facing a 24-hour news cycle of East-West tensions and the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Maybe the documentary was made last summer.
Thatcher’s steeled public image as the “iron lady” actually came from a Soviet newspaper, according to Malcolm Rifkind, who first served under Thatcher as deputy foreign minister and is one of many interviewees here. While the programme’s rejection of the nuclear threat may seem terribly dated, this is not a terrible time to revisit the history of the 1980s, especially as Moore dives into US sanctions imposed on a Siberian gas pipeline and the divided reaction to this in Europe.
But this is a movie that loves its motives. While last week’s Channel 4 documentary about 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 completely uncritical, except that Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s chief press secretary, roughly admitted that the first years of her tenure were “tragic”, and Moore explained that right after she was first elected, there was a feeling that she would only persevere. a single expression. Otherwise, almost every interviewee acts in awe of her ferocity and uncompromising nature. Reagan, too, escapes easily, with the documentary claiming that there was a perception that he was “very much an actor,” and lacked brains at first, before his communicative gifts began to dazzle.
There are a few attempts to loosely psychoanalyze what Reagan and Thatcher saw in each other. Reagan was apparently close to her mother and attracted to “convincing women”, while Thatcher “wanted to look up to a man … she would admire a man”. A talking head suggests that they were two lone operators, but when they had found each other, “they were never alone again”. Hmm. There have been a number of excellent political and historical documentaries on the BBC over the last few years, from Once Upon a Time in Iraq to Blair & Brown: The New Labor Revolution, but this is much cozier and far less elaborate.
This is a traditional documentary filled to the gills with the people who were there. Not surprisingly, given his decades in journalism and his previous biographies, Moore has access to them on the inside, and many of the contributors sat at the table, or at least hovered very close to it, during the crucial moments of Thatcher and Reagan’s friendship and political relationship. He often greets his interviewees with a familiar tone; this is a man who gets the most out of his connections.
It’s the kind of sober series that serves an educational purpose, to a point, and if you wanted fireworks and melodrama about a ruthless leader trapped by hubris, then you would watch the Peaky Blinders finale on BBC One. But as a result of its traditional approach, I found myself under the influence of what I call the “Cunk effect,” which casts a shadow over documentaries like this one. Every time a presenter is shown strolling down a street as if he is not paying attention to the camera, or taking a moment to think while the camera lingers on his thinking face, I faintly wonder when a diane Morgan voiceover comes to step in and give us the full Philomena Cunk experience. It’s, of course, an overly sensible documentary for that. But I would have enjoyed watching it.