The Great Glenda with Peter Finch and Murray Head in John Schlesinger's lacerating masterwork, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971)
My previous essay on ”Stevie” brings something to mind. Or, rather, someone...
Watching Meryl Streep giddily go through her "She Can Do No Wrong" phase brings to mind two major actresses from the 1970s who enjoyed the same free pass - Liv Ullmann and Glenda Jackson.
But my mind is really on Jackson. Ullmann still works in movies - occasionally as an actress, more often as a filmmaker herself - but Jackson, always something more of an activist than an actress, made a crucial decision to walk away.
And when she did, people - her fans, the critics - seem to have walked away, too. In the opposite direction. Jackson's name is rarely invoked these days in movie reviews or film essays. I don't know why - because when she was active, she was positively electric. There was always this unquenchable hunger in a Glenda Jackson performance. It was as if she wanted to make acting so much more than what it was.
In retrospect, she was far too serious for what is essentially a silly profession - play acting. At least Streep seems to be aware of the joke (see her performances in "Mamma Mia!" and "Julie & Julia") but Jackson couldn't really make light of it. And so she left.
It was during her last few years of acting that Jackson became actively involved in politics in her native Great Britain and she formally and officially retired from acting in order to enter the House of Commons in the 1992 general election as the Labour Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Highgate. She is currently Labour MP for the constituency of Hampstead and Highgate in the London Borough of Camden.
I feel fairly confident that she is giving an on-going passionate performance in her new role. It would be nice to once again witness that no-nonsense Jackson drive - that sometimes frightening energy that she brought to not only the aforementioned "Stevie" by Robert Enders, but also such Ken Russell films as "Women in Love" (her Oscar winner) and "The Music Lovers" - as well as John Schlesinger's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Charles Jarrott's "Mary, Queen of Scotts" (opposite Vanessa Redgrave!), John Irvin's "Turtle Diary" and even her wicked cameo in Russell's "The Boy Friend" and her romcom turn in Melvin Frank's "A Touch of Class." I could go on.
Thinking about her makes me long for her once again. Glenda Jackson will turn 78 on Friday (May 9th). It is unlikely she will ever make another movie. It is also unlikely that we will never see the likes of her again.
But thank heaven for film!