Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson, makes a sharply ironic statement to Queen Elizabeth II, played by Olivia Colman, in the Season 4 premiere of The Crown.
When Elizabeth says she assumes Thatcher won’t include any women in her new cabinet, Thatcher replies crisply that there are no “suitable candidates.”
“I have found women in general tend not to be suited to high office. They become too emotional,” Thatcher says.
“I doubt you’ll have that trouble with me,” Elizabeth coolly replies.
It’s droll of The Crown creator Peter Morgan to portray the two most powerful people in the United Kingdom — both women — dismissing the idea of female leaders. The show leaves open the question of whether Thatcher is exhibiting bone-dry wit or simply considers herself exceptional. Probably a little of both.
I’ve found no evidence at all that Thatcher ever said the quote attributed to her on the show, which would never be verifiable: only Thatcher and the queen were present for the conversation, if it ever happened, and Thatcher died in 2013.
And the queen? In 68 years of wearing the crown, Elizabeth, now 94, has not made a habit of sharing her private conversations with prime ministers. (An incident that The Crown leaves out — involving Princess Diana’s sister and a tabloid reporter — underscores how deeply the Royals value discretion.)
Morgan is admirably thorough in getting dates, titles and locations correct in The Crown, while relying on research, intuition and poetic license to imagine conversations that occur behind closed doors.
While there is no sign that Thatcher explicitly said women in general tend not to be suited to high office, her behavior speaks for itself. Yes, she broke the glass ceiling by becoming the UK’s first female prime minister. But it would be a stretch to say she advocated specifically for other women.
For example, in 11 years as prime minister, she appointed just one woman as a cabinet minister. And that woman, Baroness Young, was far from a progressive: “Baroness Young, enemy of gay rights, dies at 75,” read the headline of her obituary in The Independent in 2002.)
In his book Thatcher and Thatcherism, Eric J. Evans noted that Thatcher appointed Emma Nicholson, “a plummy voiced left-winger,” as the vice chair of the Conservative Party. Nicholson once complained about its paltry number of female candidates, adding, “Had the Conservative Party really wanted it the pattern could have been changed. The Conservative Party is . . . an army led from the top.’” (Nicholson left the party after Thatcher stepped down as prime minister, but returned to it recently.)
“Far from ‘smashing the glass ceiling,’ she was the aberration, the one who got through and then pulled the ladder up right after her,” The Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman wrote after Thatcher’s death at age 87.
The Crown is now streaming on Netflix. Main image: Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher.