Glenda Jackson, ‘Women in Love’ Oscar Winner and U.K. Politician, Dies at 87

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Glenda Jackson, who segued from a successful actress — Oscars for “Women in Love” and “A Touch of Class” and two Emmys for “Elizabeth R” — into a 23-year career as member of the U.K.’s House of Commons, has died. She was 87.

Jackson died after a brief illness at her home in London, her agent Lionel Larner said.

“Glenda Jackson, two-time Academy Award-winning actress and politician, died peacefully at her home in Blackheath, London this morning after a brief illness with her family at her side. She recently completed filming ‘The Great Escaper’ in which she co-starred with Michael Caine,” Larner said in a statement.

Aside from her prize-winning roles, Jackson gave terrific performances in such films as 1967’s “Marat/Sade” (as Charlotte Corday), “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1971, as a member of a bisexual love triangle) and on TV in “The Patricia Neal Story,” a 1981 work about that actress’s stroke and recovery with husband Roald Dahl. A defining role in Jackson’s career was Queen Elizabeth I in the six-episode 1971 TV miniseries “Elizabeth R,” in which the character aged from teenage girl to old woman. She also played Elizabeth in the film “Mary, Queen of Scots,” opposite Vanessa Redgrave, that same year.

Onstage, she triumphed as other complex women in “Hedda Gabler,” “Strange Interlude” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

When she declared that she was moving into politics, some were skeptical. Many actors were activists, but some doubted an actress could make a career of it. Once again, Jackson defied expectations, serving as a member of Parliament from 1992 to 2015.

Glenda May Jackson was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire. She worked at the U.K. chain Boots the Chemist for two years, then was accepted in 1954 at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. While studying there, she made her professional debut in 1957 in Terence Rattigan’s play “Separate Tables,” and played in repertory while having occasional bit parts in films such as 1963’s “This Sporting Life.”

Her break came in 1964 when she became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In her four years there, she worked with influential director Peter Brook, including on Peter Weiss’ “Marat/Sade” in 1965. The production also played on Broadway and in Paris. Also in 1965, she played Ophelia opposite David Warner’s Hamlet in the Peter Hall production. In 1966 the RSC staged “US,” a protest against the Vietnam War that was adapted into the film “Tell Me Lies.” “Marat/Sade” was also adapted into a film in 1967.

The 1970 “Women in Love” established Jackson as an important actress — and an arthouse sex symbol. The sexual revolution and women’s lib were gaining traction, and her character Gudrun Brangwen was complex, intelligent, emotional and with an earthy sexuality that was startling to audiences. Before then, most female sex symbols were passive to men’s needs, but Gudrun called the shots. The film was the product of men: director Ken Russell, producer-scripter Larry Kramer and novelist D.H. Lawrence. But in Jackson, they found an actress who could embody a 1920s Englishwoman who was ahead of her time, who needed a meaningful relationship but wasn’t willing to be submissive to get it.

Variety reviewer Rich Gold said Jackson “gives a vital performance. The girl’s no stunner in the looks department, but she has a punch and intelligence which gives a sharp edge to all her scenes.”

Jackson did a 180-degree turn for “A Touch of Class,” a 1973 romantic comedy with George Segal that maintained her intelligence and sexuality, but in a romantic-comedy setting. Variety‘s tough-to-please critic A.D. Murphy raved that the two stars were outstanding and “Jackson’s full-spectrum ability is again confirmed.” She was again Oscar nominated, but was considered an extreme longshot, since she had just won and faced stiff competition (Ellen Burstyn, Marsha Mason, Barbra Streisand and Joanne Woodward). She defied expectations by taking home her second best-actress Oscar.

She reunited with director Russell for the 1970 “The Music Lovers,” playing the nymphomaniac wife of the tortured homosexual Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain). The film was much more overheated and bombastic than their earlier collaboration, and received mixed reviews. Jackson bowed out of Russell’s “The Devils,” but she played an amusing cameo in Russell’s version of the stage musical “The Boyfriend,” which starred Twiggy.

That film came out in 1971, a banner year for Jackson, with the BBC series “Elizabeth R” (which earned her two Emmys); feature “Mary, Queen of Scots,” in which she again played the queen; and the John Schlesinger-directed “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which earned her a BAFTA award and a third Oscar nom. Also that year, British exhibitors voted her the sixth most popular star at the British box office.

After her second Oscar, for “A Touch of Class,” she returned to the theater, playing the title role in Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler.” Jackson gained a fourth Oscar nomination when the film version was released in 1975.  In 1978, she was awarded a CBE and had a hit with the comedy “House Calls,” starring opposite Walter Matthau.

In 1984, she appeared in a London revival of Eugene O’Neill’s rarely performed “Strange Interlude,” with the production going to Broadway the following year. A TV version was broadcast in Britain, and then in America in January 1988, as part of PBS’ “American Playhouse.”

In 1989, Jackson reunited with Russell for “The Rainbow,” D.H. Lawrence’s prequel to “Women in Love,” with Jackson playing the mother of Gudrun. She also appeared in Los Angeles as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The production, presented by the CGT Ahmanson at the Doolittle Theatre, also starred John Lithgow, Brian Kerwin and Cynthia Nixon. Variety reviewer Jim Farber said Jackson was “distractingly histrionic,” and Edward Albee, who directed the production of his play, later lamented that he found the results disappointing.

Jackson played the lead role in Howard Barker’s “Scenes From an Execution” at the Almeida Theater in 1990; the work was an adaptation of Barker’s 1984 radio play in which Jackson had also starred. She appeared in a 1991 TV version of “The House of Bernarda Alba,” and her final on-camera acting role was, fittingly, with director Russell: a 1992 TV drama, “The Secret Life of Arnold Bax.”

That same year, she ran on a Labour Party ticket, representing Hampstead and Highgate, and won, remaining an MP for more than 20 years. In 2010, constituency boundaries were changed and Jackson ran for the post for the redefined Hampstead and Kilburn area. She won by a narrow margin, and in 2011 announced that she would not run for office again, finishing her political duties in March 2015.

Meanwhile, she had been appointed parliamentary undersecretary of state (a junior minister) in 1997, under Prime Minister Tony Blair. She made an unsuccessful bid in 2000 to be nominated as Labour’s candidate for the first election of the Mayor of London.

She clashed with Blair over his education plans and over the Iraq war. In October 2006, she was one of 12 Labour MPs to call for an inquiry into the war. After Margaret Thatcher died in April 2013, Jackson gave a heated speech in parliament, accusing Thatcher of treating “vices as virtues” and stated that Thatcher’s policies created decades of unemployment and homelessness.

Jackson returned to acting with “Blood Sex and Money” a mash-up of 20 Emile Zola novels for the BBC’s Radio 4, broadcast in 2015-16. In 2019, she starred in TV film “Elizabeth Is Missing,” for which she won the BAFTA for leading actress. She was last seen on screen in “Mothering Sunday,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021.

Jackson is survived by her son, newspaper columnist Dan Hodges.

In tribute, U.K. culture secretary Lucy Frazer said: “Glenda Jackson was a brilliant actress – from her Oscars success to returning to the screen more recently in Elizabeth is missing. She was also a committed MP serving her constituents for over two decades. A truly impactful life, well lived. My thoughts are with her family.”

Glenda Jackson, ‘Women in Love’ Oscar Winner and U.K. Politician, Dies at 87

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