THE film about Margaret Thatcher's political rise and fall, which shows her suffering from dementia in old age, was last night condemned as "ghoulish" by one of the former prime minister's key lieutenants.

Lord Hurd, who was foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995, stressed, after watching a preview of The Iron Lady, that the fact the 86-year-old ex-premier was still alive should have given the film-makers "pause to wait" in making the movie.

His criticism came as it emerged the family of Baroness Thatcher had turned down an invitation to see the film, which premiered last night in London.

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Some 600 guests attended the biopic's first showing in Europe at the British Film Institute. They included Meryl Streep who plays Mrs Thatcher and British actor Jim Broadbent, who plays her husband Denis.

Lord Hurd said: "It was a great piece of acting by Meryl Streep but I felt it was a pity. Lady Thatcher is still alive and although I do not suppose she will see the film, she will meet a lot of people who have seen it and they will be thinking about it."

He added: "It has a rather ghoulish quality. The flashback scenes show a woman suffering from a form of dementia but that lady is very much alive. That should have given them pause to wait."

Lord Tebbit, another close ally of Lady Thatcher, has also been critical of the film, claiming it is inaccurate.

He said: "She was never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep."

Lord Bell, the Tory peer's former public relations adviser, also expressed unhappiness at the making of the film.

Phyllida Lloyd, the film's director, said that despite basing part of it on Carol Thatcher's memoir, she had not spoken to any members of the Thatcher family about the picture.

"Most people who see the film will feel that Meryl's performance of the older Margaret really does take care of her dignity. We all felt that somehow the portrait of somebody who is experiencing a failure of strength and health and forgetfulness is not a shameful thing to put on the screen," she said.

Streep said she wanted to show the "human being" behind Lady Thatcher's reputation. The Oscar-winning actress said: "I consider all the roles I play a privilege but this one was special because there are such vehement opinions about her. People seemed to look at her as an icon or a monster and I just wanted to locate the human being inside those caricatures."