My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/14/2010

Best Actress 1971: Glenda Jackson in "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

The role of Alex Greville, a London company employee who is caught up in a complicated love triangle, was originally offered to Vanessa Redgrave who chose to do The Devils which had been offered to Glenda Jackson before. After they starred in movies for which they had been the second choice, they co-starred in Mary, Queen of Scots and then faced each other at the Academy Awards.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a gripping tale that still captivates, a movie that is a product of its time that allowed these kind of stories while also handling universal and timeless themes – sex, love, desire, loneliness, fear and ignorance. It tells the story of three protagonists and their strange connection: Alex Greville is a working women in London, Daniel Hirsch a Jewish doctor. They know each other loosely even though there is something, or better said, someone, they constantly share: Bob Elkin, a young, attractive and free-spirited artist who goes to bed with both of them. While this is already an interesting set-up, the most fascinating concept of the story comes when Alex and Bob are spending a weekend together and he leaves her for a couple of hours. Alex smiles with a sudden realization and, apparently not-caring, tells him that she is well aware that he is going to meet Daniel. Bob doesn’t deny it and leaves. The fact that both Daniel and Alex are aware that Bob sees them alternately is certainly unexpected but very promising – instead of trying to focus on a secret double life, filled with lies and betrayal, the story openly deals with its subject and so puts the characters of Daniel and Alex in the foreground as the constant questions about their characters and their motives are the movie’s leitmotif. Also Alex’s sister, an unfortunately over-the-top anti-establishment character who lets her children smoke pot, knows about this triangle. It’s a society that is as proud as possible of its own tolerance and anti-bourgeois attitude but it becomes obvious very soon that while Daniel and Alex go along with this, they are both longing for more.

In Sunday Bloody Sunday Glenda Jackson did something that she didn’t do very often on-screen: she allowed herself to be weak. Alex is not the domineering and destructive Gudrun from Women in Love. Even her Vicki Allessio in the sex-comedy A Touch of Class was a rather strong and powerful presence who only in the last minutes showed a weaker side. But Alex is a women whose troubles, sorrows, regrets, fears and doubts are visible in every moment of the story. But since Glenda Jackson never underplays her own strong screen presence, she makes clear very soon that Alex is aware of her own problems – and this is actually her biggest weakness: the fact that she allows herself to be weak even though she doesn’t want to be. Alex is a woman with lots of emotional baggage – an uneasy childhood and a failed marriage have made her rather desperate for love. It’s not clear how the relationship between her and Bob started and how she found out about his parallel relationship with Daniel. But Alex is a woman who, as seen in the scenes when she has to take care of her sister’s children, is trying to be as progressive and anti-bourgeois as possible and so she probably accepted Bob’s behavior as if she couldn’t care less. She wants to fit into these times that seem to accept everything and condemn any sort of tenures and rules. There was probably a time when Alex not forced herself to believe in these things but actually did believe in them. The relationship with Bob seemed probably very easy for her in the beginning – no suspicions, no conditions, everyone is allowed to do as he or she pleases. But her desire for Bob has grown with the time and now Alex is not able to accept it anymore – she wants him for herself. The problem is that Bob is the one who takes full advantage of their arrangement – he accepts no rules, he takes what he wants and only looks for his own pleasure and needs. Both Alex and Daniel put their own needs in the background, they try everything they can to please Bob, to hold him. Both show the insecurity that comes from being in a relationship with a man that swings both ways – both are afraid because neither can give Bob everything he wants.

Glenda Jackson achieves a fascinating result by combining her strong and domineering screen presence with the insecurity and doubts of Alex. She shows that Alex is a woman who should be strong and who should be able to break up with Bob if he doesn’t react to her needs – but she can’t. At the same time, she also isn’t able to tell him about all this – she uses subtle hints, telling him that often people do the things they don’t want to do, she tries to fight with him about his time with Daniel but Bob is too distant from her emotionally. He lives his life according to his own rules and he simple doesn’t care if Alex is angry – because if she is, then he will simply start a relationship with somebody else. Another weakness that Alex doesn’t want – the inability to do anything. She has to fully accept Bob and his views or she loses him. His way or the highway. Sink or swim. It will take some time for Alex to realize that she can and must swim by herself.

Alex is a woman who doesn’t seem able to really face herself and her life. She rushes out of her house and quickly drinks a combination of coffee powder and tap water, she has hardly any furniture – her flat seems as unprepared for stability and longevity as Alex herself. A wonderful example of Glenda Jackons’s talent is that she is able to make Alex understandable. She is in full control of her and does neither try to evoke sympathy nor does she distance herself from the storyline. She plays Alex in a very unspectacular way that constantly shows a simple woman in an unusual situation. Glenda Jackson’s strong presence and constant intelligence in her performance prevents Alex from appearing naïve and stupid and instead creates a deep and layered character who is at crossroad in her life but tries to prevent a decision as long as possible. Glenda shows a strong intensity in her acting that makes it seem that Alex, despite her insecurities and calmness, is like a gun, ready to shoot at any moment. Things don’t just happen to her as Glenda makes sure that Alex always does everything out of her own free will – even if she actually would like something else. She knows that she can’t be happy with Bob but she keeps going. When she cries after he left her to be with Daniel, it’s not easy to say if she cries because she misses him or if she cries because she hates her life. It seems that at the beginning, there are tears of sadness because she really misses him but when she later experiences a break down in her office, this seems to be the time in her life when she finally realizes that something has to change for her. Her affair with another man is certainly not done out of passion or love – it seems that she wants to prove to herself that she is capable of doing a next step, of experiencing sex with somebody else than Bob.

But even though Alex tires to gain new strength during the run of the movie, it is, in the end, Bob who again makes the decision as he goes to America and leaves both Alex and Daniel behind. For Alex, this is finally the wake-up call and she refuses to be there when he comes back. In an outstanding scene that belongs to the best that Glenda Jackson has ever done, she sums up all her feelings and speaks all the things that have so long already been inside of her – if Alex is like a gun, this is the moment she finally shoots. So far she thought that anything would be better than nothing but now she has come to a point where nothing has to be better than anything. Glenda Jackson makes the viewer always aware that this is not a liberating moment for Alex – she is not happy about her own decision now but hopefully, she will be able to recover someday and find something new for herself. Alex is a woman who makes up her own mind and then sticks to her own decision. Just as she chose her relationship and suffering with Bob, she now chooses to finish it.

Glenda Jackson, even though a fascinating actress, sometimes feels a bit too limited in her talents because of the strength she brings to all her parts that sometimes prevents her from finding different sides in her characters. But in Sunday Bloody Sunday she perfectly combined her screen presence with the emotionally unsatisfied Alex. She intelligently explored all the aspects of her character, her background and her past, her thoughts and emotions, her hopes for the present and for the future and gave a heartbreaking and yet encouraging performance that creates some unforgettable images. Her body language is filled with self-doubt and fear, her voice is a little more shaky and contained, her face much softer than usual. That way she portrays a woman who should actually never get into the kind of situation she is in but Glenda Jackson gives enough reason to make her motives believable. A wonderful, powerful and yet delicate performance that gets

9 comments:

dinasztie said...

Basically I agree and I would give her 4,5 too. I think that towards the end of the movie she was overshadowed by the amazing Peter Finch, so that's why I would give her 4,5. Otherwise she was brilliant, especially at the middle of the movie. I think the movie deserved a Best Picture nom. I think it was brilliant.

Fritz said...

Yes, I also think that the movie should have been up for Best Picture. And, yes again, Peter Finch was brilliant, too! I even liked the guy who played Bob even though a lot of people say that he was weak.

Sage Slowdive said...

Fantastic read!

Murray Head :) I actually liked him in the movie too...

Fritz said...

Thanks a lot, Sage!

Yes, Murray Head! I was too lazy too look his name up! :-)
I think he played his part very well (and he had the looks that were needed, too!)

joe burns said...

Sounds like a really interesting film and performance. Strong writeup.

She'll be your choice, I think. I have a feeling that 88 is next. Am I right?

Fritz said...

Wow...normally I don't tell what year is next but you're right! How did you guess?

joe burns said...

Because I remember asking you about 80's years and you said 88 might be possible, and then I gave you a link to Signourney's movie. And I read on Twister's blog that you said you saw Dangerous Liasisions a while ago, so that's how I got it.

Allen said...

Great write up! I haven't seen SBS yet, very much looking forward to it. I'm excited to see what you think about Christie!

Fritz said...

@Allen: Thanks a lot!

@Joe: You should become a private detective like Joe Poirot! :-)