The BBC tv film “Elizabeth Is Lacking” — a stand-alone episode of “Masterpiece” on PBS this Sunday — comprises Glenda Jackson’s first display screen efficiency since 1992. That definitely deserves consideration — Jackson, now 84, is among the most technically completed and ferociously clever actresses of our time. Did it benefit the rapturous British evaluations on its launch in 2019 and maybe inevitable awards, together with a BAFTA and a world Emmy, that she acquired for it? Not likely, nevertheless it isn’t Jackson’s fault.
You possibly can see the enchantment to Jackson of “Elizabeth Is Lacking,” which was tailored by the actress and author Andrea Gibb from a thriller novel by Emma Healey. The central character, Maud, who’s shifting from forgetfulness into dementia, is onscreen nearly the whole time, whether or not within the current or as her teenage self (performed by Liv Hill) in a parallel story line set 70 years in the past. The progress of the movie largely takes place by means of Jackson’s twofold embodiment of Maud’s decline and of her cussed, typically offended battle to delay and deny it.
The story places Maud in a scenario stuffed with dramatic promise: her greatest good friend, Elizabeth, has out of the blue disappeared, and Maud is decided to search out her regardless of the inconvenient incontrovertible fact that she will’t persuade anybody that Elizabeth is definitely gone. Scrawling notes to herself about Elizabeth’s glasses and a few suspiciously damaged vases, Maud carries on her investigation in suits and begins, selecting it up once more each time she remembers that Elizabeth is lacking.
It’s an excellent setup for an easy thriller, however “Elizabeth Is Lacking” is extra sophisticated than that, and when you can’t maintain that ambition in opposition to it, you would possibly want that you simply have been watching one thing less complicated. Maud’s seek for Elizabeth is woven along with the disappearance of Maud’s married older sister in 1950. Occasions within the current and previous frequently combine in Maud’s thoughts, her recollections triggered by objects or phrases in methods which might be suave and just a little too self-conscious.
The mystery-novel construction of the story seems to be each a feint and a actuality, one thing that turns into predictable pretty early on and is disappointing within the closing consequence. We’re imagined to be getting a deeper satisfaction from the detailed depiction of Maud and her affliction, and the neatly organized thematic resonance between the 2 story strains, revolving round what it actually means to be lacking.
However regardless of the efforts of the proficient director Aisling Walsh (“Maudie”), who provides the movie a welcome restraint and readability, “Elizabeth Is Lacking” doesn’t hit the mark — the screenplay is just too fussy and tough, and the decision to the dual mysteries, with its blended notes of heroism and resignation, isn’t convincing. (Walsh’s closing picture, an extended shot of Maud crossing a avenue alone in mourning garments, has an influence missing in the remainder of the movie.)
However as you might count on, it comprises a largely faultless efficiency by Jackson, one which’s definitely value 87 minutes of your viewing time. (It may additionally remind you that regardless of Jackson’s stature, and some high points like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Return of the Soldier,” her screen résumé isn’t all that distinguished.)
She doesn’t play for our sympathy — she leans into the character’s frustration and irascibility, making it clear how difficult she is to deal with. And she communicates Maud’s flickering moods and perceptions precisely and indelibly, in the way she briskly taps a notecard when Maud makes a connection or in a quick, shattering moment when she silently screams with frustration at a restaurant, conscious of not making (too much of) a scene. Maud may not come fully alive in the script, but there’s nothing missing in Jackson’s portrayal.