Film

Glenda Jackson defied expectations to succeed in acting and politics

As a working-class woman, Glenda Jackson was underestimated – but in her extraordinary life she proved the doubters wrong.

Glenda Jackson

Photo: ©Sarah Lee / eyevine

Oscar-winning actor and firebrand MP Glenda Jackson has died at the age of 87.

In a statement, her agent Lionel Larner said she “died peacefully at her home in Blackheath, London, this morning after a brief illness with her family at her side.”

Coming from a working-class background, Jackson faced barriers in both her careers – in acting and in politics – but broke through them all to make waves in both fields.

“There was only a certain amount expected of you as a woman, especially a working-class woman,” she told The Big Issue last year, in an interview with Jane Graham for the iconic Letter To My Younger Self feature.

Despite working with some of greatest directors in the world, Jackson said she always worried that each acting job would be the last. “I never got to a point when I didn’t worry that I wouldn’t work as an actor again,” she said. “It’s a very overcrowded profession, and particularly overcrowded if you’re a woman. Authors don’t find women that interesting.”

Jackson said she’d been “lucky” to work with directors like Ken Russell and Peter Brook, who she describes as “probably the greatest director the world has ever seen”.

In a much-lauded career on screen and stage, Jackson won two Oscars – for 1969’s Women in Love, directed by Ken Russell and for 1973’s A Touch of Class, directed by Melvin Frank – three Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award.

“It’s nice for a role to be appreciated,” she said. “But it’s the work that matters.”

In the early 90s, furious with the direction in which Margaret Thatcher had driven the country, Jackson retired from acting to go into politics.

“That was the extremity of everything I thought was the worst way for the country to go forward,” she said of Thatcher’s policies.

She was elected as Labour member for Hampstead and Highgate in 1992. After the 1997 general election, she was given a junior role in Tony Blair’s government, and was later a backbencher until she retired from parliament in 2015. “I was very fortunate to be re-elected five times. And to occasionally be able to really help the people in my constituency. It’s such a privilege to be a member of parliament, to be able to open those doors to help people if they need it,” she said.

Glenda Jackson arrived into a political system that was still very much set up for men.

“Of course the House of Commons wasn’t welcoming for women, but in my generation were so used to that. In a funny kind of way you’d be surprised if it wasn’t immediately apparent,” she told The Big Issue.

“You expect to be ignored, so you have to be prepared for that. I gave my maiden speech to a virtually empty House. But that was OK. Of course it makes you angry, but even that marks you up as ‘woman, failure’.”

Jackson returned to acting after leaving politics, and had just finished filming a new film, The Great Escaper, with Michael Caine at the time of her death.

She had one son, newspaper columnist Dan Hodges, with her former husband Roy Hodges, a stage manager and fellow actor.

“If I could live one moment of my life again it would be seeing my son for the first time,” she said in her Letter To My Younger Self interview. “They knocked me out during my labour. When I came round I was in a hospital bed and they brought this baby in, and that was my son. That kind of responsibility can feel frightening of course. But to see this tiny creature in my arms. Oh, it was amazing.”

Read Glenda Jackson’s full Letter To My Younger Self here.

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