Glenda Jackson: Oscar-winning actress and former Labour MP, dies aged 87

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Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson

From Two-Up, Two-Down to the Triple Crown Throne

Today, we bid farewell to a true legend who embodied the spirit of unyielding talent and unwavering conviction. Glenda Jackson, the renowned English actress and politician, passed away on June 15, 2023, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that has forever shaped the realms of acting and public service.

Born into humble beginnings on May 9, 1936, Glenda Jackson emerged from a world defined by scarcity and hardship. Growing up in a modest two-up, two-down house in Birkenhead, Cheshire, she found solace and inspiration in the world of cinema, her namesake being the Hollywood star Glenda Farrell. From these meagre roots, she would go on to achieve the coveted Triple Crown of Acting—a feat attained by only a select few—by winning two Academy Awards, three Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award.

Jackson’s ascent to stardom began with her electrifying performance in Ken Russell’s film adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” (1969), a role that earned her the first of her two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Brian McFarlane, an eminent authority on British cinema, fittingly described her portrayal as possessing a “blazing intelligence, sexual challenge, and abrasiveness,” which breathed life into a character rarely seen with such passion on the silver screen.

Throughout her illustrious acting career, Glenda Jackson left an indelible mark on the stage and screen, bringing to life iconic roles in films such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1971), “Mary, Queen of Scots” (1971), and “A Touch of Class” (1973), the latter earning her a second Academy Award. Her range and versatility were unparalleled, as demonstrated by her riveting portrayals of historical figures like Elizabeth I in the BBC series “Elizabeth R” (1971) and Mary, Queen of Scots on the silver screen.

Farewell to Glenda Jackson: Celebrating a Life of Artistic Brilliance and Political Conviction

Beyond her artistic achievements, Glenda Jackson was also a political force to be reckoned with. A staunch socialist, she fearlessly advocated for her beliefs, often clashing with the prevailing Blairite faction within the Labour Party. Her impassioned opposition to tuition fees in higher education, coupled with her unwavering stance against the Iraq War, showcased her resolute commitment to justice and principle.

As an MP for Hampstead and Highgate from 1992 to 2015, Glenda Jackson brought her trademark tenacity and outspokenness to the political arena. Her fiery nature and unwavering dedication to her constituents earned her both praise and criticism, but she remained steadfast in her convictions, refusing to compromise her principles for the sake of popularity or political expediency.

Glenda Jackson had been a card-carrying Labour member since the age of 16.

Jackson was a socialist, and was generally considered to be a traditional left-winger during her political career, often disagreeing with the dominant Blairite governing Third Way faction in the Labour Party

As a high-profile backbencher, Jackson became a regular critic of Blair over his plans to introduce higher education tuition fees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. She also called for him to resign following the Judicial Enquiry by Lord Hutton in 2003 surrounding the reasons for going to war in Iraq and the death of government adviser Dr David Kelly.

By October 2005, her disagreements with Blair’s leadership swelled to a point where she threatened to challenge the prime minister as a stalking horse candidate in a leadership contest if he did not stand down within a reasonable amount of time. On 31 October 2006, Jackson was one of 12 Labour MPs to back Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party’s call for an inquiry into the Iraq War.

In June 2011, Jackson announced that, presuming the Parliament elected in 2010 lasted until 2015, she would not seek re-election. She stated: “I will be almost 80 and by then it will be time for someone else to have a turn.” The eventual election was held two days before her 79th birthday, 23 years after she had first entered the House of Commons.

In April 2013, Jackson gave a speech in parliament following the death of Margaret Thatcher. She accused Thatcher of treating “vices as virtues” and stated that, because of Thatcherism, the UK was susceptible to unprecedented unemployment rates and homelessness.

Another speech of Jackson’s went viral in June 2014 when she gave a scathing assessment of Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, telling him that he was responsible for the “destruction of the welfare state and the total and utter incompetence of his department”.

Diane Abbott, who became a Labour MP in 1987, described Jackson as a “kind and extremely principled woman” in her tribute on social media.

Labour MP and shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell, who worked for and alongside Glenda Jackson, recalled the “incredibly kind” politician’s humour as she paid tribute.

“This is very sad news. In my early twenties I worked for Glenda, a decade later our MPs offices were next door,” she wrote on Twitter.

“She was always incredibly kind & supportive to me. I will also remember her cutting humour, general disdain at most things, all while smoking!”

Glenda Jackson’s remarkable life was marked by an extraordinary comeback to acting in 2018, after a quarter-century hiatus, with her Tony Award-winning performance in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” on Broadway. Her return to the stage was a testament to her enduring passion for the craft and an inspiration to all who witnessed her triumphant comeback.

Today, we bid farewell to an unparalleled talent, an outspoken champion of social justice, and a true maverick who defied conventions at every turn. Glenda Jackson’s legacy will endure as a testament to the power of artistic brilliance, unwavering political conviction, and an unyielding spirit that refused to be silenced.

Glenda Jackson’s life is a testament to the power of conviction, the pursuit of excellence, and the unyielding determination to make a difference. She leaves behind a rich tapestry of performances and political activism that will continue to resonate for generations to come. Glenda, thank you for sharing your brilliance with the world. You will be dearly missed, but your legacy will forever endure.

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