GILBRETH COLUMN: It's time 'Iron Lady' gets respect she deserves

President Reagan chats with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during State Arrival Ceremonies in this Feb. 26, 1981, file photo at the White House.


I can't wait to see America's greatest actress, Meryl Streep, tackle the role of Margaret Thatcher in the newly released movie, "The Iron Lady."

Thatcher's historical legacy is controversial because her views were so ideologically polarizing. Consequently, she will be subject to endless revisionist interpretation and analysis.

What did she do? From what I've been reading, even her detractors have to admit that Britain was in a sad state of affairs when Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in May 1979. A once-proud empire reduced to a socialist quagmire, spiraling national debt, out-of-control labor unions, economic stagflation, and diminished international influence. (Sound familiar?)

By the time she left office in 1990, the economy had rebounded, unemployment and inflation were both down, GDP was way up, overall personal wealth was way up, one of the most crippling labor unions (coal mining) in the nation's history was crushed, and national pride and international stature returned to nearly pre-WWII levels.

That's all she did. And, oh yes, there's that minor business of having partnered with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to win the Cold War and reduce Soviet communism "to the ash heap of history." This as Britain's first female prime minister, the daughter of a grocer who had to endure humiliating class stigmatization and sexism as she rose through the ranks of power.

Lady Thatcher refused to witness the further decline of Britain and pursued her agenda with a ferocity and steeliness that made her a compelling leader, only to be done in near the end by turncoats within her own party. In short, like her or not, she's a most remarkable woman whose prescient warning about the adoption of the euro as the EU's unit of currency rings ever so true today, even as she spends her days racked by dementia and surrounded by attendants.

Her detractors, on the other hand, will accuse her among other things of having been a jingoistic nationalist, a moral absolutist, whose union busting had tragic consequences for multitudes of communities and families and actually ran counter to the idea of achieving full employment, and whose policies led to greater disparity between the rich and poor. (Again, sound familiar? Even though GDP and overall personal wealth were dramatically improved.)

It's about time that Margaret Thatcher receives the unqualified respect and honor she rightly deserves, and I hope the movie will do her justice. If not, there's always the pleasure of watching her brilliant parliamentary performances on YouTube, where she had to think on her feet and stood strongly in the face of daunting opposition.

On a different subject, as Restaurant Week arrives, I feel it is my duty to keep readers informed, and thus have imposed on myself the burdensome task of visiting a fancy restaurant on occasion.

Charleston has loads of excellent restaurants, and I haven't been to all of them, by any means, but, in an opinion forged by the consumption of some mighty fine dining over the years, my vote for best in city goes to FIG, at Meeting and Hasell streets.

Many restaurants make a big initial splash and then quickly go away (examples being Louis's Restaurant and Bar, Upstream and Mo Sussman's Steakhouse at the same Meeting Street address).

Others have nice, long runs and then quietly disappear (Marianne's, Vincenzo's with the best tiramisu ever, and The Wine Cellar). Still others establish themselves and become seemingly permanent fixtures (Carolina's, Magnolias, Anson Restaurant, McCrady's, Fulton 5, SNOB, etc.).

It's rare for a chef to be able to keep a certain buzz going, but Mike Lata manages to do just that and gets better and better. It's interesting to watch, and I suspect he could blend right into something like the New York scene if he were to choose that route, which hopefully doesn't happen.

On the same subject, where's Brett? McKee, that is. The well-known and regarded culinary character and promoter abruptly parted ways with his business associates several months ago after putting a high-profile stamp on the F&B industry with forays through Oak, Oku and several "Roadhouse" projects. What happened?

Look for Brett to re-emerge in the not-too-distant future with -- can you guess? -- another successful venture. I have nothing to back this up other than a gut instinct.

Not that it matters, but my picks for less pricey dining alternatives would include The Wild Olive on Johns Island, The Tattooed Moose on Morrison Drive and Sesame Burgers & Beer in North Charleston -- much more bang for the buck and excellent.

Restaurant Week starts today and it should be fun. I'm already looking forward to sampling new menus!

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at