Wednesday, April 18

Dame Judi

I first heard of her in 1985 when she made A Room with a View.  She had already done a lot of work, particularly in her native Britain, but I wasn't into English films very much at the time.  She helped change that as did A Room With a View.  In it she had a minor part as a novelist.  She would come to work in many ensemble casts with as much excellence as she provided in some of her above-the-title roles.  Imagine, she was in her early 50s when most Americans became aware of her.  How rare is that?  I have been a huge fan ever since.

In 1997 (one of my favorite years for movies) she made the acclaimed Mrs. Brown in which she played Queen Victoria.  Actresses have played English royalty for many years but I don't think anyone ever did a better job than Dench did here.  I don't mean to run down Helen Hunt, but to think she won Oscar's best actress instead of Dench is so egregious.  Kudos should go to Billy Connolly for his portrayal of Mr. Brown, her trusty servant who loved her after she became a widow.  He wasn't even nominated for some dumb reason.

The following year she did win the Oscar, a supporting one, for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, no doubt to make right the error of the prior year.  Her entire screen time was eight minutes.  I am not sure if she deserved the Oscar for this part but she should probably get an Oscar nomination for most of her roles.  Despite the film winning the best picture award, it has always taken some hits for being a little lightweight, although I quite liked it.

She and her longtime pal and frequent costar Maggie Smith joined Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin and Cher for a fun romp in 1999's Tea with Mussolini.  It's not on my 50 Favorites list but perhaps it should be because I loved it as well.  Working with the esteemed director Franco Zeffirelli, it was about an Italian boy-to-young-man looked after by a group of English and American women who are friends.  Dench had a frumpy look as a woman obsessed with art preservation and her dog.  She was delightful.

I have commented on Chocolat (2000) in a recent post when I spoke of its director, Lasse Hallström.  In its lyrical, magical ways, I find this film to be exceptional movie-making and Dench was both fortunate to have been included and the film prospered by having her.  She plays a supporting role as the landlord to Juliet Binoche who comes to a small village with her daughter to open a chocolaterie. 

In 2001 Dench and Kate Winslet shared the title role in Iris, the story of British novelist Iris Murdoch.  Winslet plays her as the young and feisty person and Dench as the older one suffering from Alzheimer's.  Both actresses were rightly nominated for Oscars.  I thought this was one of Dench's truly great performances.  Both ladies were matched with good actors as their husbands... Hugh Bonneville (today the head of the Downton Abbey family) and the illustrious Jim Broadbent.

Ladies in Lavender (2004) came over me in a small wave in much the same way as Chocolat.  Two older unmarried sisters living in a secluded home on a bluff overlooking the sea. They have their lives changed when they come across an unconscious young man awash on the shore.  Dench's Ursula was the sister whose nursing duties turned to unrequited love and she mesmerized me in this fine little film.

Dench often plays formidable women.  One of these was comically brought to life in Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), another film so right in tone and mood and tempo.  She and the wonderful Bob Hoskins stand nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe as a 1930s widow who opens a theater with live performances and her tough-as-nails manager who have divergent opinions on how to run things.  Based on a true story of London's Windmill Theater, which introduced female nudity to the British stages.  Dench was funny and imperious and totally delightful.  If you haven't seen it, you should.

Seared into my brain is Dench's performance in Notes on a Scandal (2006).  Breath-taking performances by Dench and Cate Blanchett were awarded with Oscar nominations.  Dench has played many a tough cookie, but this one is the matriarch of them all.  She is a rather severe schoolteacher who isn't so much a closeted lesbian as she is a quiet one.  She maintains a diary and from it and her actions we see she has fallen for another teacher, a younger married woman.  And that teacher has gone younger still by engaging in an affair with a student.  As the two women's lives intersect more and more, we are treated to some high drama.  Dench's performance was chilling.  I think I will forever remember her facial expressions.

Because I have decided to only focus on 10 of her films, let's include Nine (2009).  I was doing so well, you thought.  The aforementioned were all stunning choices, so why would I include Nine, this heavily-maligned mishmash of somebody's bad dream?  Well, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Fergie and Kate Hudson and the king of actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, along with Dame Judi, are some of the reasons.  And it's a musical about showbiz...!  Stop.  Get on board, boys and girls.  It's about an Italian director going for a comeback and the various women in his life.  Dench shone as the director's righthand woman on the job.  She got to sing (as did they all).  It was a hoot.  Wasn't it?

Of course there is M in the James Bond series.  And if you will permit me to venture off and mention a television (omg...!!!) movie, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells shouldn't be missed.  No real Dench fan would disagree.  It's about an all-female swing band during WWII and the wartime scenes are interspersed with current-day life to perfection.

I am looking forward to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where she is again costarring with Maggie Smith and also Bill Nighy who played Cate Blanchett's husband in Notes on a Scandal.  It is about British retirees who holiday in India.

Sadly Dame Judi has macular degeneration which my mother also had.  I don't know how she keeps working so much but I extend my thanks and best wishes to her.

NEXT POSTING:  Favorite Film #42

1 comment:

  1. I've always liked Judy Dench and now thanks to you, BC, I have a list of some of her movies to rent. I love the Brits!