Glenda Jackson, the Oscar-winning actress and former Labour government minister, has revealed that her experiences of visiting the elderly during her political career helped inspire her to play dementia sufferer Maud in BBC One drama Elizabeth is Missing, Jackson’s first return to television in 25 years.
The 83-year-old said that her experiences as an MP had proved “fortunate” while facing the challenge of portraying someone with the disease. Speaking on a panel at Wednesday’s screening, she said: “When I was a member of parliament I would have to visit old people’s homes and day centres and things of that nature, and obviously one met people who were suffering from Alzheimers and dementia.”
She continued: “The thing that struck me most markedly was, they are terrible illnesses, but it is the havoc that I wreaked upon families, friends, because I remember particularly one day I was visiting and this man [who had dementia] was there, and his daughter was there as well, and he would be particularly abusive and shouting and she said to me, ‘Never in my life did he ever raise his voice to me, never once did I ever hear him like this’. And it is that that struck me most markedly.”
Asked why she took the role, Jackson said that, in addition to a “good script”, the issue of dementia is “something that I have been banging on about for at least a decade… We are living longer and this [is] a deep black hole which let’s get slightly political, which none of the political parties has really take onboard, but we as a society are gonna have to deal with this”.
The 90-minute drama is based on Emma Healey’s bestselling book of the same name, and follows Maud (Jackson), an elderly woman struggling with dementia while also attempting to piece together what has happened to her best friend, Elizabeth.
Karen Harrison-Dening, a doctor who specialises in dementia and who advised on Maud’s portrayal, praised the show during the screening Q&A and added that health and social services “will be crawling all over [the film]” as an educational tool.
Elizabeth is Missing is on BBC One, Sunday 8th December at 9pm