Celebrating the Fabulous Stars of Book Club: The Next Chapter—as Well as Four Other Legendary Actresses

From Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton to Frances McDormand and Judi Dench, these grand actresses have had long and complex careers

In Bill Holderman and Erin Simms’ Book Club: The Next Chapter, the four women who met to discuss their favorite reads—and, of course, sip chardonnay—in the hit 2018 comedy Book Club are back and flying to Italy. Even better, so are the four legendary actresses who play them.

When Vivian (Jane Fonda) finally agrees to get married, her friends—Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen)—throw her the ultimate bachelorette party by taking her to Italy. As the four sightsee, shop, and savor Italian delights in Rome, Venice, and Tuscany, they reaffirm the bond of friendship that has kept them together for so many years. In the production notes, Fonda remarks how the adventures of these four fun-loving ladies “gives women hope that there is a life after 60 and it can be pretty great.”

Equally inspiring are the remarkable careers of the film’s four stars. Diane Keaton remarked, “I’ve watched Jane Fonda all my life, so when I have had the opportunity to work with her—she’s incredible.” Having been nominated for six Academy Awards, Fonda won Best Actress Twice: in 1972 for Klute and in 1979 for Coming Home. Keaton's been nominated for four Oscars, winning for an unforgettable performance in Annie Hall. For her television work, Candice Bergen has been nominated for nine Emmys, winning five for her work on Murphy Brown. And Mary Steenburgen, who has shone on both TV and film, won an Academy Award in 1981 for her performance in Melvin and Howard.

With so much talent in one movie, we’re celebrating four other actresses whose long and complex careers have made them film legends.

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The official trailer for Book Club: THe Next Chapter

Judi Dench

Making her stage debut as Ophelia in 1957, Judi Dench went on to become acting royalty, eventually winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love. Whether playing a loving grandmother in Belfast, Queen Victoria in Victoria & Abdul, a sage housekeeper in Jane Eyre, or a haughty aristocrat in Pride & Prejudice, Dench brings something stately to all her characters. NME reported that in a 2021 poll conducted by Showcase Cinemas, Judi Dench was voted the best female British star of the century. Kenneth Branagh, who’d worked with Dench 12 times before casting her in Belfast, told the Los Angeles Times, “She was so bloody good, she had literally taken my breath away.”

Watch Pride & Prejudice now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Jane Eyre now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Victoria & Abdul now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Belfast now on iTunes or Amazon.

Judi Dench in Belfast

Frances McDormand

In her nearly 40 years as a film actress, Frances McDormand brings something unique and unforgettable to all of her roles. She is only the second woman—the first being Katharine Hepburn—to win an Academy Award for Best Actress three times (in Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and Nomadland). “While Frances McDormand’s characters are all so vastly different, she has a talent for making them her own,” writes Hollywood.com. Be it a prim governess in Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day, a gym instructor who will sell state secrets for plastic surgery in Burn After Reading, a tightly wound mother in a bad marriage in Moonrise Kingdom, or a corporate rep selling fracking to farmers in Promised Land, McDormand’s character contains a depth and dimension that makes them feel utterly original and empathetically human. As Salon writes about her performance in Burn After Reading, “The magic of casting McDormand is that she somehow makes this self-centered imbecile, who unleashes a violent and chaotic chain of events, seem like a spunky American-movie heroine.”

Watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day now on iTunes or Amazon.Watch Burn After Reading now on iTunes or Amazon.Watch Moonrise Kingdom now on iTunes or Amazon.Watch Promised Land now on iTunes or Amazon.

Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading 

Maggie Smith

Since stepping on the stage in 1952, Dame Maggie Smith has earned her designation as one of Britain’s great thespians through her sly wit and mesmerizing presence. She’s been nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Best Supporting Actress for California Suite. Whether as a professor of transfiguration, a reverend mother, a high-spirited teacher, or noblewoman on vacation, Smith’s characters imbue an air of authority, if not superiority. Smith brilliantly brought out her unique style as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in Downton Abbey and Downton Abbey: A New Era. Downton’s creator-writer Julian Fellowes had Smith in mind after seeing her cutting performance as a Dowager in Gosford Park, which he also wrote. “What I love about Maggie is that she has this extraordinary skill to bring many different aspects of a character into her delineation, but they never seem contradictory,” Fellowes told Fresh Air. “Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Violet Crawley once again steals the show,” writes IGN. “She’s just as sassy and clever as she was in the show, but also a bit more vulnerable this time.”

Watch Gosford Park now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Downton Abbey now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Downton Abbey: A New Era now on iTunes or Amazon.

Dame Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in Downton Abbey

Lesley Manville

After starting her acting career singing and dancing in a London West End musical in 1972, Lesley Manville went on to demonstrate she could do it all, from serious drama to bubbly comedy. Manville gained the courage to take on any character and make it her own. “I can spread my net. I can play this woman and that woman; different classes, different types,” she told The Guardian. In the last few years, Manville has shown us just how versatile her talent can be. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, she received an Academy Award nomination for portraying a fashion designer’s controlling sister. In Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go, Manville’s portrayal of the manipulating matriarch of a criminal clan “yanks the film out of the hands of her higher-wattage co-stars,” writes The Guardian. Her starring turn in Anthony Fabian’s Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris garnered her a Golden Globe nomination by delivering “an effervescent performance that flaunts her comedic and dramatic range,” wrote Time Out.

Watch Phantom Thread now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Let Him Go now on iTunes or AmazonWatch Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris now on iTunes or Amazon.

Lesley Manville as Mrs. Harris in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris