I did not set out to write about a noted British republican (the lowercase “r” kind) at this time; she’s been on my schedule for a while now. Still, she’s the only MP in history with an Oscar, and she’s a noted socialist and anti-monarchist. She didn’t pick up either of her Oscars in person and says her mother’s polished all the gold off them and gotten them down to the base metal. She lives in a granny flat in the basement of the home her child lives in. She does not live the kind of glitzy life people expect of a star. Hardly surprising she’s opposed to the policies of Thatcher and her ilk. She also figures she’s too old to be in politics, being at the time her term ended 79.
It’s also true that my own primary experience was with her portrayal of a queen. In fact, I watched her play the role of Queen Elizabeth I for college credit, back in 2001. In general, I’m not a fan of biopics that try to cover a person’s entire life, especially when that life is as long and as complicated as Elizabeth I’s. However, just about the only one I’ve approved of has been Elizabeth R. For one thing, it takes as much time as it needs. It’s six hour-long episodes. For another thing, Jackson’s talent is sufficient to carry the role from the days of fear as young Princess Elizabeth to the days of rage when she was old.
Honestly, it’s a hell of a performance in a hell of a series. Her costumes were designed based on original Elizabethan portraits. And if she looks a little too old in the early sections and a little too young in the later ones, that’s pretty well unavoidable if you stay with a single actress for the entire thing. The makeup’s still worthwhile. The rest of the cast is good, but the rest of the cast wouldn’t matter if Jackson weren’t capable of keeping up the role. She also put up with a lot of physical strain for the role—those costumes are a lot more than people realize.
It’s interesting that Jackson has played two queens—including Elizabeth I twice—and Lady Hamilton on the screen, not to mention King Lear on the state, in addition to all kinds of other upper crust types. Jackson went into acting because it was better than working in “that bloody chemist’s shop.” She was the daughter of a bricklayer; her mother worked three jobs as a domestic cleaner, a barmaid, and a cashier at a grocery store. They lived in a four-room house. She may have a CBE, but she also by all accounts put in serious work when she was serving in Parliament and wasn’t exactly a do-nothing Upper Class Twit type.
In 1989, she played Anna Brangwen in The Rainbow. Anna is the mother of Gudrun, her character from 1961’s Women in Love. Both are characters from D.H. Lawrence. There actually is a long enough gap between the two films for Jackson to believably play both roles. This is unusual in film, where often it’s considered sufficient for ten years to pass for an actress to be old enough to play the mother of an adult character she’d played. Not that I think Jackson would stand for that sort of thing, after all, and just wouldn’t take the role.