A Family Affair by Michael Dobbs

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BBC Radio 4, 28 November 2009
Broadcast only a week after Gregory Evans' play Shirleymander, profiling the former leader of Westminster Council Shirley Porter, A Family Affair was clearly designed as a companion-piece. Best-selling author Michael Dobbs - author of the House of Cards trilogy which played so successfully on television during the 1990s - imagined what life would be like in Margaret Thatcher's household during those fateful last days of 1990, when her 11-year reign as Prime Minister came to an end. Like Shirley Porter, Mrs. Thatcher (Clare Higgins) was a dominant woman, indifferent to the feelings of her ministers, who firmly believed that she could carry on indefinitely in the post. However, like Marlowe's Tamburlaine, she was guilty of overreaching; in her efforts to carve a niche for herself on the world stage, she failed to notice that her cabinet was gradually turning against her. Only when Sir Geoffrey Howe (John McEnery) resigned, with a very public statement in the House of Commons, did Mrs. Thatcher become aware of the gravity of the situation; but by then it was too late.
Dobbs portrayed Thatcher as an obsessive, who never really experienced a proper home life. Even when she tried to spend some quality time with daughter Carol (Monica Dolan), she remained too preoccupied with matters of state to enjoy herself. Her son Mark (William McGeogh) was a wastrel, who traded on the family name and managed to land himself in financial hot water. When he announced his intention to return and support his mother in her hour of need, Mrs. Thatcher visibly winced. Perhaps the most important person in her life was Denis - who in Stephen Moore's performance emerged as a placid, rather loveable old stick, fond of golf and gin at the club, who eventually took the initiative and ordered Mrs. Thatcher to resign, so as to save her own political skin. Sometimes Moore's performance brought back memories of John Wells' memorable comic characterization of Denis Thatcher in the farce Anyone for Denis? from the 1980s; but nonetheless Moore managed to suggest that beneath that rather absent-minded exterior there lurked a solid, stable personality with a touching devotion to his spouse (whom he called "poppet").
A Family Affair covered familiar ground which has already been well-trodden in the television play Margaret, broadcast earlier this year on BBC Television with Lindsay Duncan in the title role. One wonders if writers in the future will treat Mrs. Thatcher differently; at present her image in the popular imagination is dominated by the 'Iron Lady' belief, even though it is now nearly twenty years since she fell from power.