In 1970, at 14-years-old, I was simply crazy for her performance in Ken Russell‘s The Music Lovers where she plays the rapacious Russian countess who fails to bed Richard Chamberlain as gay Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Glenda Jackson plays his biggest fan, Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova. After seeing it, I could think of little else for weeks.
Jackson disappeared from showbiz for three decades but returned in 2018 and received a Tony Award for her trouble. Jackson claims that she cares nothing about awards, making me wonder where she keeps her two Academy Awards, her pair of Emmy Awards, and that Tony.
The two Oscars, neither of which she showed up to collect, were for Women In Love (1970), where she plays a free-thinking sculptor who walks away from a romance to pursue her own ambitions; in A Touch Of Class (1973), where her character is a divorced fashion designer who has an affair with a married man, just for the hot sex. She appeared in three films featuring bisexual love triangles: The Music Lovers, Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), and Women In Love.
Jackson walked away from acting to serve as a member of Parliament for 23 years. She left politics in 2015, not because she wanted to retire but because ”it was time for someone else to have a go”. She had no plans to pick-up her acting career again, but she started to get some interesting offers. Then, fearlessly, she took on the title role in William Shakespeare‘s King Lear at the Old Vic. For the demanding, physical role, Jackson went to her community pool every morning and swam to build her stamina. She received rave reviews. A woman portraying the broken-down king was not a new idea. Jackson made no effort to look like a man in the production. Jackson:
”One of the interesting things for me about Lear, what I’ve found is that as we get older, those hard-drawn territorial lines that define gender, which we are subject to the minute we are born, begin to fray, to blur. We’re all human. Regardless of the envelope. The really interesting thing is the issue about age, I mean, for our age now, certainly for the western world, because there have been incredible advances in medical and psychological science. We are living longer. But are we living longer, or are we existing?”
Most actors, when they have stupendous success in the biz, are happy moving on up in social status. Jackson has remained true to her working-class roots, and to the people she represented as a Minister of Parliament. She own her indignation, most of it spent on other people’s behalf. When running for that Parliament seat, Jackson went door to door, seeking support. During her time in Parliament, she delivered a resounding denunciation of all things Margaret Thatcher, in part saying:
”…everything I had been taught as a vice under Thatcherism, was in fact a virtue. My country is being destroyed. When I heard Mrs. Thatcher say there was no such thing as a society, I was so furious, I walked into my French door and nearly broke my nose!”
Back in the 1970s, I was obsessed with Jackson. She had quite a run for a while. In 1971, in order to play Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth R (1971) on the BBC, Jackson shaved her head, and then won two Emmys. That same year, she also portrayed Queen Elizabeth I in the film Mary, Queen Of Scots, had an unforgettable small turn in Ken Russell’s musical The Boy Friend, and won a BAFTA for her role in gay director John Schlesinger‘s Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Melvin Frank saw her comedic potential and offered her A Touch Of Class (1973), and she won an Oscar. In 1978, she scored big at the box-office in the romantic comedy House Calls, with Walter Matthau. They made such a great comic team, Jackson and Matthau were paired again in the comedy Hopscotch (1980).
She is still working; Michael Caine and Jackson first worked together in The Romantic Englishwoman in 1976, and they appear together again in The Great Escaper, opening in theatres this summer.