Glenda Jackson, winner of the leading actress award at this year’s Bafta TV awards for the BBC drama Elizabeth Is Missing, has voiced her fears for gender equality in the arts. Taking part in a virtual, pre-show panel for Bafta alongside fellow nominees Suranne Jones and Jodie Comer, Jackson, 84, said that she would like to see more parts for female actors who were “the dramatic engine” of a piece. “I find it incomprehensible [that] contemporary writers still find us so boring,” Jackson added. “They never, or hardly ever, place us as the central engine.”
Jackson also spoke of sexism as a more endemic problem in society, adding that “even though women have achieved equality in certain sectors, not across the whole world, not in all walks of life … if a woman is successful she is deemed to be the exception that proves the rule. If a woman fails, that’s par for the course. That really hasn’t shifted and there you go”.
Jackson has previously spoken about the lack of gender parity within the industry. Last year, she told the BBC that we are “still a really long way away from genuine equality as far as gender is concerned”, describing women as the “adjunct” in theatre when she began her career. She also described entering the Houses of Parliament, where she was an MP for 23 years, as going into a “white, middle-aged, male-dominated chamber”.
Earlier this week, she also told the entertainment industry website Variety that she had been “bitching about [gender] for years. Women have made strides in creating more equality as far as our gender is concerned, but we are no means there yet. Like most industries, most decision makers in TV are still men. Of course there are moves, but it’s still a fence that has to be got over.”
Born in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 1936, Jackson trained at Rada from 1954 on a scholarship. Following a successful acting career that included winning two Academy Awards and a Tony as well as Emmys and Baftas, she became a member of parliament in 1992. In 2016 she returned to the stage playing King Lear at the Old Vic, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award.
Having been previously nominated for best leading actress in 1971 for Howard’s End and 1972 for Elizabeth R, this was Jackson’s first TV Bafta win for her role in the one-off BBC thriller about a woman with dementia trying to solve a friend’s disappearance despite her cognitive decline. On the subject of older people and their status in society, she told the panel: “I tremble to say anything positive about Covid, but what I think is positive is the need for us as a nation to take on the necessity for social care because it is just out there waiting for us like a great big black hole if we don’t do anything about it”.
Jackson said that she had found making the drama “intensely moving … [this is] a story which is of national importance … it’s how do we care for ourselves”.