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In Depth

People In Film | Dame Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench | From Stage to Screen

Dame Judi Dench, who plays Mrs Fairfax in Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, is one of the most acclaimed screen actresses of the past decade, however Dench was and is a reluctant movie star. Essentially a late bloomer when it comes to film acting, Dench told The Times of London in 2009, “I'm more comfortable on stage, where there is an audience to tell a story to, as opposed to a film set where you are not in charge at all. On stage you can hear an audience's reactions. Within two minutes of a play starting you know how the evening will go. On film you're more reliant on the director. The moment he leaves you, you're like a child learning to walk.” Dench, however, has taken huge strides as a cinematic performer, with her mastery of screen acting undoubtedly rooted in the confidence she gained from her work on stage.

Dame Judi Dench | Theatrical Roots

Dench made her stage debut in 1957 at the Old Vic in London, and over the next few years established herself as a Shakespearian actress, playing the great female roles like Lady Macbeth, Juliet and Ophelia. She did venture into film in the mid-1960s, indeed she appeared in no less than four different movies in 1965 and was honored that year with the Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for her role in Four in the Morning. However, despite this auspicious start, Dench returned to the stage. Over the next two decades, she worked for the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, becoming one of the most acclaimed and celebrated actresses in British theatre, while also winning plaudits and awards for her performances on television, most notably in the mini series of Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate and the sitcom A Fine Romance, both opposite her late husband, Michael Williams.

Dame Judi Dench | From Literary Adaptations to Bond

In the mid-1980s, Dench returned to the movies in a trio of literary adaptations. She played novelist Eleanor Lavish in the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View, Mrs. Beaver in the film version of Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust and Nora Doel in 84 Charing Cross Road,based on the book by Helene Hanff). She was won Best Supporting Actress at the BAFTA awards for the first two, and was nominated in the same category for the third. After another big screen hiatus – maybe because, as she once said, “I don't like reading scripts very much. I like it better for someone to just explain to me what it is about this story” – she took on a very different kind of role, by playing M in the James Bond movie GoldenEye (1995). The movie's title was highly appropriate, as the period that followed was to be a truly golden one for Dame Judi.

Dame Judi Dench | From Mrs. Brown to Mrs. Henderson

In 1997 and 1998, Dench had a very regal and awards-heavy time, playing Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I back-to-back in Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love. For Mrs. Brown, she was Oscar nominated for Best Actress and won the BAFTA award in the same category, while Shakespeare in Love earned her Best Supporting Actress awards from the Academy Awards and the BAFTAs. In the years following this, she seemed to win awards and nominations for almost every film she made, becoming a permanent fixture at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs for her performances in movies like Last of the Blonde Bombshells, Chocolat, Iris, Mrs Henderson Presents and Notes on a Scandal. (Those movies earned her two BAFTAs, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award, plus countless nominations.) During this period, Dench also appeared in such acclaimed literary adaptations as The Importance of Being Earnest (putting a new spin on Lady Bracknell's famous “A handba?” line) and the Focus Features-released Pride and Prejudice, in which she played Lady Catherine De Bourgh for director Joe Wright.

Dame Judi Dench | Never Predictable

Though she is often associated with costume dramas, Judi Dench has made a point in her career of never being pigeon-holed. She’s not only played M in six Bond movies (plus voiced the character for a number of Bond video games), but she toughed it out as Aereon in The Chronicles of Riddick opposite Vin Diesel. She’s directed Shakespeare on stage and John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger on television. And though not a classically trained singer, she originated the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 1968 on the London stage, and in 2009 appeared in the diva-packed musical Nine. “I don't want to be thought of as recognizable – I always want to do the most different thing I can think of next,” she once said in a 2009 interview. “I don't want to be known for one thing, or as having done huge amounts of Shakespeare and the classics. …On stage I am not trying to be myself, I'm trying to be someone else, the more unlike me the better. I remember someone who saw me in Juno and the Paycock said I was completely unrecognizable. How marvelous.”

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