Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth is Missing

Christina Knight | December 28, 2020

Elizabeth is Missing on Masterpiece premieres Monday, January 4, 2021, at 8 p.m. on WLIW.

Elizabeth is Missing on Masterpiece stars award-winning actress and risk-taker Glenda Jackson. The 84-year-old British actress (born 1936) delivers a fierce performance as Maud, who suffers from worsening dementia just as she desperately tries to solve the mysteries of two women who vanished from her life. Jackson’s gritty portrayal of Maud’s determination and confusion in Elizabeth is Missing won Jackson an International Emmy and BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress.

Maud, an elderly woman living alone in a suburban town, is another one of Jackson’s home-run, comeback performances since returning to acting after a 23-year career change. The two-time Academy Award winning actress ((A Touch of Class, Women in Love) retired in 1992 to serve as the elected MP for Hampstead and Highgate in the U.K. Parliament House of Commons, until 2015. She spent two years as Under-Secretary of State for Transport, overseeing transport in London, airlines and airports, marine and shipping matters, and ports and railways.

As if never skipping a thespian beat, at the end of 2016 she returned to acting to star as the titular character in Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Old Vic Theatre in London. Broadway audiences were the next to be treated to her acting. Jackson won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in a revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.

Elizabeth is Missing, adapted from Emma Healey’s acclaimed novel, is set in 2019 and is the first television film Jackson has appeared in since 1992. Her first Masterpiece series performance on PBS was in the 1972 series Elizabeth R, for which she shaved her head to best resemble Queen Elizabeth and won two Emmy Awards.

An elderly woman with short grey hair sits in a brown overcoat at a kitchen table, her hands around a mug of tea. She stares thoughtfully in the distance. Behind her is a blurred view of a wall with multicolor post-it notes.

Glenda Jackson as Maud in her home in Elizabeth is Missing.

Jackson embraces the natural state of aging as Maud, from wrinkled skin to bent fingers and labored gait. The narrative’s honest portrait of the failures of an aging body (bladder control) and more centrally, early-stage Alzheimer’s, is as fascinating as the mysterious double-plot: the sudden disappearance of Maud’s friend Elizabeth (Maggie Steed) triggers the past trauma of Maud’s older sister’s disappearance, and presumed death, 70 years prior in the same town.

Maud gets by in her daily life with the memory aid of square sticky notes, which clutter her table and mark drawers and cupboards in her home. With the encouragement of her granddaughter, Maud uses the scraps of paper as a tool to piece together what happened to her friend Elizabeth. She last saw her while gardening at Elizabeth’s home, where they commiserated over their grown children’s shortcomings.

An elderly woman in a blue sweater and shirt stands in the rain in a garden looking with fear at her hands, which are full of dirt. The arms of her sweater and her pants are stained with dirt.

Garden scene in Elizabeth is Missing, starring Glenda Jackson. Photo: STV Productions Mark Mainz.

While digging into the dirt with her bare hands – Maud doesn’t need gloves when there is soap – she had uncovered half a powder case that had belonged to her sister, Sukey. Stunned, she said nothing to Elizabeth. The piece from the past sets off hallucinations and memories from the last days teenage Maud lived with her sister.

Maud’s flashbacks to her youth introduces beautiful Sukey (Sophie Rundle), Sukey’s fiance (Mark Stanley, Sanditon), and a moody lodger in their home who seems to long for Sukey. The drama includes Maud’s daughter  Helen (Helen Behan) and granddaughter Katy (Nell Williams) in the current day as they support Maud living on her own, and more half-heartedly, her quest to find Elizabeth.

Don’t miss this performance by Glenda Jackson: The Times in England hails it as  “a devastatingly real performance.”

Elizabeth is Missing on Masterpiece premieres Monday, January 4, 2021, at 8 p.m. on WLIW.