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Karin Kasdin

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Iron Lady: Dementia and Margaret Thatcher

Posted: 01/17/12 03:50 PM ET

If Carol and Sir Mark Thatcher want to exact revenge on their mother Margaret for being a cold or absentee mother, then condoning and endorsing the film "The Iron Lady" is a surefire way to do it.

I am no fan of Margaret Thatcher's. My political views run counter to almost everything she stood for. But, after watching Meryl Streep's star turn this week, I could not help feeling pity for the woman whose dementia-ridden dotage is currently on display on at least two continents.

Both Streep and Phyllida Lloyd, the film's director, deny The Iron Lady is a biopic. They're wasting their breath. Most audiences are either too ill informed or too apathetic to exert any energy on sorting out fact from fiction. It has been widely reported that Ms. Thatcher suffers from dementia. Whether the exact lines of dialogue came from Thatcher herself or from the screenwriter's imagination is irrelevant.

One does not choose a life in the public eye without understanding that personal privacy will be compromised. But what happens when one can no longer choose for oneself? Ronald Reagan was blessed with a wife who fiercely guarded his privacy during an excruciatingly painful decade of mental decline. Unfortunately for Ms. Thatcher, she outlived her beloved husband, Denis, who might have done the same for her.

Streep spoke to an LA Times reporter about the opening scene in the movie, in which an elderly Thatcher shuffles alone down a London street in a drab beige overcoat and a kerchief in order to purchase a quart of milk from the local convenience store. (The likelihood of this happening is about the same as the likelihood of William and Kate accepting an invitation to my next birthday party.)

"There is no more dismissible figure on the street than an old woman," Streep said. "I would search for people's eyes, and I would look people full in the face, and they would assiduously avert their gaze. It was really interesting. You represent everything that is terrifying."

If that is true, why is it necessary to portray the former prime minister of England as such a nonentity? And while she's still alive? I'm sure it's legal. It may even be ethical. But it sure isn't nice. Okay, call me Pollyanna.

The poor woman probably doesn't have many years left. Would it have cost anyone their livelihood to wait until her death to reveal her pitiful hallucinations to the world?

I fear death less than I fear Alzheimer's. Each time I forget where I put my phone, or blank on a person's name, or am unable to retrieve a word from the archives of my brain, that fear rears its ugly head. If the scourge that devours whole families in a single bite were ever to strike me, I would use my last remaining faculties to demand privacy. I would ask that my grandchildren be spared from viewing the worst of it. I would want them to remember me as a vital, contributing member of society and of our family. And I would certainly ban cameras from my quarters.

On the very moment I hear the dreaded words of diagnosis I would thank God for my obscurity in the world. This may be the only circumstance under which I would relish my privacy more than I would relish the chance to have the greatest actress of my generation portray me on the screen.