FRC Icon #7 – Dame Judi Dench
Its FRC Icon day. Let us look at one of the greatest Icons that Britain has, Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench seems to be on a mission. She seems to want to prove that actresses are not finished when they reach a ‘certain’ age. She has done this by achieving her greatest fame and loudest plaudits while she was in her sixties. In her younger years she was known as one of Great Britain’s greatest Shakespearian’s, but as her career grew the lure of Film was too much and she was continually nominated for Oscars in the roles she undertook, Mrs Brown (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chocolat (2000) and Iris (2001). She achieved this all with a severe aversion to film!! She once stated…
“…in Films people are cast primarily because they look like a character, whereas on stage, in an hour and a half, I have the opportunity and ability to convince the audience I am whatever I choose to be.”
Judith Olivia Dench was born on December 9th, 1934, in York, England. Her mother hailed from Dublin, while her father studied medicine at Trinity College and then worked as a doctor in York. Inadvertently, it was he who introduced Judi to the world of theatre, as she would accompany him backstage at York’s Theatre Royal when he was busy as the company’s GP (her brother, Jeffrey, also became a theatre actor). In her youth, Dench became a Quaker (she still is). This brand of christianity eschews both formal doctrine and ordained priests, which may explain Dench’s tough work ethic and a love for communal theatre life that has often seen her turn down film parts.
A prolific stage career soon followed, with seasons spent performing with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Judi broke into film in 1964 with a supporting role in ‘The Third Secret’. The following year, she won her first BAFTA, a Most Promising Newcomer honor for her work in ‘Four in the Morning’.
It is pretty obvious from her choice of films she undertook, that Dench was primarily a Stage actress. She ranks very high amongst her peers and contemporaries, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave and Diana Rigg, she is indeed one of the greatest of her generation. She is often praised for her total control over her deep emotions, not something that comes easy, it has been honed out of 45 years of hard work and determination. But it wasn’t all po-faced thespianism, Dench is also known for her cute sense of humour, In Noel Coward’s Private Lives, her and her co-star Edward Woodward were always playing pranks on each other.
Though a deadly serious actress, Dench would find greater fame in the early Eighties, in the TV sit-com ‘A Fine Romance’ (to which she sang the theme). Here she starred with her real-life husband Michael Williams, whom she’d met at the RSC and married in 1971 (they have one daughter, actress Finty Williams). Sadly, Williams died on January 11th, 2001, after a long and brave struggle with lung cancer. Dench would win one of her five (and counting) BAFTAs for ‘A Fine Romance’, keeping the hits coming by appearing in several of the mid-Eighties’ excellent British period dramas – A Room With A View, A Handful Of Dust and 84, Charing Cross Road. She was also, nearly, Grizabella in the original West End cast of Cats, but pulled out, leaving Elaine Paige to lap up the praise for her centrepiece performance of Memories.
Also in the mid-Eighties, Dench appeared alongside Kenneth Branagh in Ghosts. They formed a strong and fruitful working relationship, which saw Dench take on a directing role for Branagh’s Renaissance Company. Amongst other plays, she directed ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, ‘Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Henry V’, stepping back into the ranks to appear in Branagh’s 1989 film version of the last of those three.
Dame Judi Dench or DJD as I like to call her (actually I have never used that, but while researching this post I saw it out there and thought it was cool…no?, ok no), is now globally known as M in the Bond film series. But as you can see from her Bio she is a whole lot more. Lets look at some of her best films
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
When Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) needs passionate inspiration to break a bad case of writer’s block, a secret romance with the beautiful Lady Viola (Paltrow) starts the words flowing like never before! There are just two things he’ll have to learn about his new love: not only is she promised to marry someone else, she’s successfully impersonating a man in order to play the lead in Will’s latest production!
Although Dench only appeared in a handful of scenes totaling approximately eight minutes, she made such a strong impression as the Virgin Queen that she was awarded that year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Her Majesty, Mrs Brown (1997)
Its 1864 and Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) remains in seclusion, still mourning the death of her husband Prince Albert. With public opinion turning against her and rumours spreading, a former servant of the Prince named John Brown (Billy Connolly) is called on to help. But soon, his unorthodox ways and disdain for royal protocol shake things up even more. Now, he’s the Queen’s sole confidante and protector, leaving the monarchy on the brink of a scandal! A film, which earned widespread critical acclaim, Mrs. Brown weaves a rich tapestry of fiery performances, scenic settings and forbidden love!
Remarkably, in a career that spanned some 40 years, Dench had never played the lead in a film until she was cast as the widowed Queen Victoria who embarks on a questionable relationship with her Scottish manservant (Billy Connolly) in the John Madden-directed “(Her Majesty) Mrs. Brown” (1997). The film was originally intended as a made-for-British-TV movie, with the role of the monarch earmarked for Elizabeth Taylor. When Taylor fell ill, Dench was cast and it was released theatrically. Her performance earned the actress some of the best reviews of her career to that point, including a richly deserved Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
Nobody could have imagined the impact that the striking Vianne (Binoche) would make when she arrived in a tranquil, old-fashioned French town. In her very unusual chocolate shop, Vianne begins to create mouth-watering confections that almost magically inspire the straight-laced villagers to abandon themselves to temptation and happiness. But it is not until another stranger, the handsome Roux (Johnny Depp), arrives in town that Vianne is finally able to recognise her own desires.
This film saw Dench nominated for yet another Academy Award for a supporting role.
Adapted from John Bayley’s memoir, Richard Eyre’s film explores the remarkable relationship between Bayley and Iris Murdoch down through the years. Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville play the couple in their youth when they first meet in Oxford, while Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent assume the roles in their later life. When Murdoch tragically develops Alzheimers, Bayley can only witness the degeneration of her brilliant mind and try to care for her as best he can. Beautifully acted, Iris is both a fitting tribute to a great writer and a moving love story.
The demanding role of British novelist Iris Murdoch in the biopic “Iris” (2001), based on the memoirs of Murdoch’s husband John Bayley. The actress rose to the challenge of playing a vibrant, intelligent woman who gradually succumbs to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. As with all her work, Dench offered an impeccable and deeply moving performance that the members of the Academy recognized with a Best Actress nomination.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Pierce Brosnan returns as sexy super-spy James Bond. The agent’s assignment is as follows: he must protect Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the sole heir of a British oil tycoon, from the influence of terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle). Unfortunately, she double-crosses him and the world’s oil supply is put in peril. Now, he must take on Renard, a villain who feels no physical pain, with the help of do-gooder scientist Christmas Jones (Denise Richards)
Dench reprised M in this film. A masterstroke that certainly piqued my interest in the series of films again.
Chronicles of Riddick
Riddick is on the run; escaping from mercenaries determined to collect the price on his head, he finds himself at the heart of a battle that is not his. With Necromonger conquerors threatening the future of the entire universe, Riddick could be the only unlikely hero to save the human race. But will he be interested in saving anything other than his own life?
Dench made a welcome return to the big screen in 2004 in the unlikely vehicle “The Chronicles of Riddick,” director David Twohy’s sci-fi/action sequel to his cult hit “Pitch Black.” Dench played Aereon, an ethereal Elemental who helps Riddick (Vin Diesel) learn the secrets of his origin.
This marks the end of this British section of the FRC Icon series. As from next week I am going to start looking further a field for my Icons. I want to visit the whole world, maybe taking a different country every week, taking me around the globe leading me home again. Wish me luck.
What are your feelings on DJD? Are you a fan? Did you enjoy my write up? Comment below