Judi in Disguise
Britain's best actor began in the late '50s on the London stage, where she was Ophelia in "Hamlet," Lady Macbeth and, a decade later, Sally Bowles in "Cabaret." Since then, Judi Dench has played movie roles that run the gamut from James Bond's boss to Queen Elizabeth I. Here, for her 83rd birthday, are 15 of her most amazing screen performances.
"Four in the Morning" (1965)
It wasn't Dame Judi's film debut (that was a small role in 1964's "The Third Secret"), but this British "kitchen sink" drama featuring the then-30-year-old actress was the first real sign of what was to come. For her performance as a neglected young mother, Dench was awarded the British Academy Award as Most Promising Newcomer.
"Room With a View" (1985)
After two decades spent establishing herself as one of England's premier actors in theater and television, Dench returned to the big screen as romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish in this Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M.Forster's 1908 novel. Although the film was a critical and box office success, Dench claims she has never seen it, "I do not enjoy watching myself on screen," she says.
Dench maintained her frosty stance as "M," James Bond's superior, in eight movies spanning two Bonds (Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig). "GoldenEye," in which Dench established her MI6 bona fides, was the first. Dench's late husband Michael Williams urged her to take the role. "He wanted to live with a Bond woman," she said.
"Mrs. Brown" (1997)
This was the first of Dench's now patented Royal Family portrayals. "Mrs. Brown," which tells the story of Queen Victoria and her loving relationship with a Scottish servant, was also the first film in which Dench played the lead role, and it gave the then-62-year-old actor her first Oscar nomination.
"Shakespeare in Love" (1998)
A year after playing Queen Victoria, Dench achieved international recognition as Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love"—despite an appearance that lasted only eight minutes. "I feel for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him," said Dench, referring to the Oscar statuette as she accepted the award for Best Supporting Actress.
Dame Judi received a third Oscar nod for her supporting role as a diabetic with a sweet tooth in this ode to love and chocolate, co-starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Dench has called the film one of her personal favorites. "It's about the lifting of spirits," she said. "Not to mention that I got to eat and drink and enormous amounts of chocolate!"
In this biographical drama, based on the life of Irish novelist Iris Murdoch, Dench plays the Alzheimer's-plagued Murdoch while Kate Winslet plays her as a young woman. "Dench is transcendent," wrote novelist Martin Amis. "I knew Iris. It is as if Dame Judi and Dame Iris were always on a metaphysical collision course. Her performance has the rarest quality known to any art—that of apparent inevitability." And another Oscar nomination for Dench.
"Ladies in Lavender" (2004)
Dench rejoins her "Room With a View" co-star Maggie Smith in the story of two elderly sisters who discover a nearly drowned man and nurse him back to health. Dench accepted the role before she even the script, saying, "What a chance to be with my old friend Mags!"
"Pride & Prejudice" (2005)
Keira Knightley stars in this adaptation of Jane Austin's classic novel of love and manners, but Dench has a juicy supporting role—the imperious grande dame Lady Catherine de Bourgh. What persuaded Dench to join the cast was a letter from director Joe Wright in which he said, "I love it when you play a bitch. Please come and be a bitch for me."
"Mrs. Henderson Presents" (2005)
In this nostalgic tale set in London during World War II, Dench plays a widowed septuagenarian who opens the city's first live variety show with female nudity—knowing that it might be the first and only chance for young soldiers going off to possible death to see a woman naked. Wrote one critic: "Judi Dench could sit motionless on an overturned bucket surrounded by dancing emus, bodybuilders juggling small kitchen appliances and a tableau of naked nymphs, and she would still be the most interesting thing in sight." Oscar nomination number five.
"Notes on a Scandal" (2006)
"Notes on a Scandal" pairs Dench with Cate Blanchett in a psychological thriller that shows off Dame Judi at her vicious best, playing a lonely and bitter schoolteacher bent on destroying other, happier lives. Yet Dench inhabits her character with a poisoned humanity that makes it one of her greatest movie portrayals. Rolling Stone called it the "bravest, riskiest role of Dench's brilliant screen career." It netted her another Oscar nomination.
"My Week With Marilyn" (2011)
A movie about a movie, "Marilyn" centers on the making of the 1957 flop "The Prince and the Showgirl," starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. Due to an earlier commitment, Dench was brought in during pre-production and filmed her scenes separately from the rest of the cast, to be edited in later. "It was like playing 3-D Sudoku," said director Simon Curtis. "Was it worth it to do this to get Judi Dench in the film? The answer is an emphatic yes."
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2012)
Teamed once again with Maggie Smith—and a host of Britain's leading actors—Dench plays a widowed pensioner who moves to a retirement hotel in India in this surprise box office hit. Not that 82-year-old Dench was ready to retire. "I intend to go on working as long as I can because I still have a huge amount of energy," she said. "I'm certainly not ready to be packed away somewhere and told to put my feet up and go to bed at a certain time."
"Philomena" tells the true story of a woman's 50-year search for her forcibly adopted son. Since the actress suffers from macular degeneration—an eyesight problem that makes it difficult for her to read—co-writer and co-star Steve Coogan read the script to her aloud. "I was completely hooked," said Dench of the screenplay that led to her seventh Oscar nomination. "I couldn't wait to get started."
"Victoria & Abdul" (2017)
Dench revisits one of her most acclaimed roles. Although this film is set just four years after "Mrs. Brown," Dame Judi is 20 years older than she was the last time she played Queen Victoria. No matter—she steals the show. "Judi is 82 years old and the biggest female star in England," said "Victoria & Abdul" director Stephen Frears. "That's why she's so phenomenal at playing a queen, because she's adored and trusted by everyone, including the current queen."
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