Over the last four days I've seen two films with nothing in common except their politics. The just-released Batman film 'The Dark Knight Rises' and the Margaret Thatcher biopic 'The Iron Lady', which I caught on DVD, couldn't be further apart in tone, theme and setting. But they both feature conservative protagonists.
It's the Batman film which is more overtly political. The Iron Lady is foremost a love story, as well as a reflection on class and gender prejudice. The film barely deals with Thatcher's conservatism and its politics are mainly subliminal, in that the portrayal of Thatcher and her husband Dennis is so poignant that it elicits sympathy for a highly divisive figure. The film recounts Thatcher's recitation of a prayer on winning the prime ministership in 1979: 'Where is discord, may we bring harmony.' Thatcher herself may have fallen short of that standard, but Meryl Streep brings her closer.
As for The Dark Knight Rises, I would side with Ross Douthat's observation that Batman is a Burkean conservative figure who recognises the many injustices of his society but tries to save it anyway from revolutionaries and thugs. There's nothing uplifting in Batman's motives for defending Gotham, no 'truth, justice and the American way'. Just a simple calculation that Gotham's many discontents are still endurable, and far better than mob justice and summary executions. Tellingly, the film features a number of references to Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.
I felt that the previous film in this trilogy moved the Batman character toward a flirtation with neo-conservatism; it was almost an apologia for the Bush Administration's War on Terror excesses. But in this installment Batman is a 'quiet Tory' who wants to restore order and then leave the running of his city to others. In fact, The Dark Knight Rises resembles a Western like Shane, featuring a hero who defends civilisation but is not fit to live in it, much less govern it.