Few in modern British history have come as far or achieved as much from humble beginnings as Glenda Jackson has. From acclaimed actress to respected MP (Member of Parliament), she is known for her high intelligence and meticulous approach to her work. She was born to a working-class household in Birkenhead, where her father was a bricklayer and her mother was a cleaning lady. When she was very young, her father was recruited into the Navy, where he worked aboard a minesweeper. She graduated from school at 16 and worked for a while in a pharmacy. However, she found this boring and dead-end and wanted better for herself. Her life changed forever when she was accepted into the prestigious Royal Acadamy of Dramatic Art (RADA) at the age of 18. Her work impressed all who observed it. In addition, she married Roy Hodges at 22.
Her first work came on the stage, where she won a role in an adaptation of “Separate Tables”, and made a positive impression on critics and audiences alike. This led to film roles, modest at first, but she approached them with great determination. She first came to the public’s notice when she won a supporting role in the controversial film Marat/Sade (1967), and is acknowledged to have stolen the show. She quickly became a member of Britian’s A-List. Her first starring role came in the offbeat drama Negatives (1968), in which she out-shone the oddball material. The following year, controversial director Ken Russell gave her a starring role in his adaptation of the 1920s romance Women in Love (1969), in which she co-starred with Oliver Reed. The beautifully photographed film was a major success, and Jackson’s performance won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. In the process, she became an international celebrity, known world-wide, yet she didn’t place as much value on the status and fame as most do. She did, however, become a major admirer of Russell (who had great admiration for her in return) and acted in more of his films. She starred in the controversial The Music Lovers (1971), even though it required her to do a nude scene, something that made her very uncomfortable. The film was not a success, but she agreed to do a cameo appearance in his next film, The Boy Friend (1971). Although her role as an obnoxious actress was very small, she once again performed with great aplomb.
1971 turned out to be a key year for her. She took a risk by appearing in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), as a divorced businesswoman in a dead-end affair with a shallow bisexual artist, but the film turned out to be another major success. Also, she accepted the starring role in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s much anticipated biography of Queen Elizabeth I, and her performance in the finished film, Elizabeth R (1971), was praised not only by critics and fans, but is cited by historians as the most accurate portrayal of the beloved former queen ever seen. The same year, she successfully played the role of Queen Elizabeth I again in the historical drama Mary, Queen of Scots (1971). That same year, she appeared in the popular comedy series The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968) in a skit as Queen Cleopatra, which is considered on of the funniest TV skits in British television, and also proof that she could do comedy just as well as costume melodrama. One who saw and raved about her performance was director Melvin Frank, who proceeded to cast her in the romantic comedy A Touch of Class (1973), co-starring George Segal. The two stars had a chemistry which brought out the best in each other, and the film was not only a major hit in both the United States and Great Britian, but won her a second Academy Award. She continued to impress by refusing obvious commercial roles and seeking out serious artistic work. She gave strong performances in The Romantic Englishwoman (1975) and The Incredible Sarah (1976), in which she portrayed the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt. However, some of her films didn’t register with the public, like The Triple Echo (1972), The Maids (1975), and Nasty Habits (1977). In addition, her marriage fell apart in 1976. But her career remained at the top and in 1978 she was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That year, she made a comeback in the comedy House Calls (1978), co-starring Walter Matthau. The success of this film which led to a popular television spin-off in the United States the following year. In 1979, she and Segal re-teamed in Lost and Found (1979), but they were unable to overcome the routine script. She again co-starred with Oliver Reed in The Class of Miss MacMichael (1978), but the film was another disappointment.
During the 1980s, she appeared in Hopscotch (1980) also co-starring Walter Matthau, and HealtH (1980) with Lauren Bacall, with disappointing results, although Jackson herself was never blamed. Her performance in the TV biography Sakharov (1984), in which she played Yelena Bonner, devoted wife of imprisoned Russian nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov opposite Jason Robards, won rave reviews. However, the next film Turtle Diary (1985), was only a modest success, and the ensemble comedy Beyond Therapy (1987) was a critical and box office disaster and Jackson herself got some of the worst reviews of her career.
As the 1980s ended, Jackson continued to act, but became more focused on public affairs. She grew up in a household that was staunchly supportive of the Labour Party. She had disliked the policies of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, even though she admired some of her personal attributes, and strongly disapproved of Thatcher’s successor, John Major. She was unhappy with the direction of British government policies, and in 1992 ran for Parliament. Although running in an area (Hampstead and Highgate) which was not heavily supportive of her party, she won by a slim margin and immediately became its most famous newly elective member. However, those who expected that she would rest on her laurels and fame were mistaken. She immediately took an interest in transportation issues, and in 1997 was appointed Junior Transportation Minister by Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, she was critical of some of Blair’s policies and is considered an inter-party opponent of Blair’s moderate faction. She is considered a traditional Labour Party activist, but is not affiliated with the faction known as The Looney Left. In 2000, she ran for Mayor of London, but lost the Labour nomination to fellow MP Frank Dobson, an ally of Blair’s, who then lost the election to an independent candidate, Ken Livingstone. In 2005, she ran again and won the nomination, but lost to Livingstone, winning 38% of the vote. When Blair announced he would not seek reelection as Prime Minister in 2006, Jackson’s name was mentioned as a possible successor, although she didn’t encourage this speculation. In 2010, she sought reelection to parliament and was almost defeated, winning by only 42 votes. In 2013, she responded to the death of Margaret Thatcher by strongly denouncing her policies, which was condemned by many as graceless. In 2015, elections for parliament were called again but she didn’t seek reelection. She was succeeded in Parliament by Chris Philip, a Conservative Party member who had been Jackson’s opponent in 2010.
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