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Jackson, Glenda (1936-)


Main image of Jackson, Glenda (1936-)

The screen's loss was politics' gain when dominant actress Glenda Jackson successfully stood as Labour MP for Hampstead in 1992, and has not filmed since, giving herself whole-heartedly to her political responsibilities.

A bricklayer's daughter, early determined on an acting career, she trained at RADA and first appeared on stage in 1957, her big chance coming in 1964 when Peter Brook cast her as assassin Charlotte Corday in his Theatre of Cruelty production Marat/Sade, transferred to the screen in 1966. She would continue to appear on the stage, notably, for the RSC, as Ophelia in Peter Hall's Hamlet (1965), as Hedda Gabler (1975, filmed as Hedda (d. Trevor Nunn)) and, to mixed reception, with Alan Howard in Antony and Cleopatra (1978).

She can be spotted sitting on a piano in a party scene in This Sporting Life (d. Lindsay Anderson, 1963), but, apart from the RSC transfers, her film career really began with her magisterial Oscar-winning Gudrun in Ken Russell's daring adaptation of Women in Love (1969). Her blazing intelligence, sexual challenge and abrasiveness were at the service of a superbly written role in a film with a passion rare in the annals of British cinema.

She came to films just as the bottom was falling out of the domestic industry which makes more remarkable the roles she did get: she vies, with painful conviction (and for a British Academy Award), for a share of Murray Head's affections in Sunday Bloody Sunday (d. John Schlesinger, 1971); is perhaps the screen's greatest Elizabeth I, charismatic and commanding, both in Mary, Queen of Scots (d. Charles Jarrott, 1971) and TV's Elizabeth R (BBC, 1971); a sensual, whorish Emma Hamilton (making Vivien Leigh's seem like a debutante) in Bequest to the Nation (d. James Cellan Jones, 1973); a sardonic Sister Alexandra in Nasty Habits (d. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1976); a tautly moving figure as Stevie [Smith] (UK/US, d. Robert Enders, 1978); very affecting as the dowdy housewife whose life is disrupted by The Return of the Soldier (d. Alan Bridges, 1982).

Virtually everything is worth noting, including her second Oscar role in A Touch of Class (d. Melvin Frank, 1972), though comedy is not her forté, the title role in The Patricia Neal Story (US, d. Anthony Harvey, 1981) and other TV including A Murder of Quality (d. Gavin Millar, 1991). Perhaps not since the heyday of Googie Withers was there so potent a British screen actress.

She was awarded the CBE, 1978, was married (1958-76) to former stage actor and designer Roy Hodges, and stood unsuccessfully for Mayor of London in 2000.

Biography: Glenda Jackson: A Study in Fire and Ice by Ian Woodward (1985).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Benefit of the Doubt (1967)Benefit of the Doubt (1967)

Peter Whitehead's film of Peter Brook's anti-Vietnam stage production 'US'

Thumbnail image of This Sporting Life (1963)This Sporting Life (1963)

Lindsay Anderson directs Richard Harris as a troubled rugby player

Thumbnail image of Elizabeth R (1971)Elizabeth R (1971)

Glenda Jackson's career-topping performance as the 'virgin queen'

Thumbnail image of Horror of Darkness (1965)Horror of Darkness (1965)

Bleak Wednesday Play about an uncomfortable love triangle

Thumbnail image of Let's Murder Vivaldi (1968)Let's Murder Vivaldi (1968)

Taut David Mercer play about relationship conflicts

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Thumbnail image of Russell, Ken (1927-2011)Russell, Ken (1927-2011)

Director, Producer, Writer, Actor