Friday, June 4, 2010

For the Weekend: Judi, Judi, Judi

I've just been in one of those moods lately. You know the kind, where you feel like watching a whole bunch of one person, one type film, until you've gotten your fill of it (at least for the time being). And my current obsession? The incomparable, magnificent, always wonderful to watch Judi Dench! I cannot express how much I love her. She is the epitome of acting. She is the true Queen of England to me (with Helen Mirren second-in-command). So I picked out some films of Dame Judi's that you currently can stream instantly on Netflix, if you'd like to join me in my obsession. ;-)

First up, the film that finally brought her a much-deserved Oscar, even if it was for the wrong film (don't worry, I'll explain in a bit). "Shakespeare in Love," the Best Picture Academy Award winner of 1998, stars Joseph Fiennes (Ralph Fiennes' little brother) as the classic bard William Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, the woman for whom he falls and inspires him to write "Romeo and Juliet" and "Twelfth Night." It's a fictional romantic comedy, full of Shakespearean plots, what-ifs, and inside jokes about the real theater people of the time like Christopher Marlow (Rupert Everett), Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush), and the Chamberlain's Men. Written by Tom Stoppard of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" fame, it understandably became an instant favorite of every theater nerd alive (me included). And to top it off, like the cherry on a sundae, it has Judi Dench playing Queen Elizabeth I. She is only in a total of eight minutes of the film, but she steals the screen each time with her portrayal of the famous English monarch. And for this short performance, Judi won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. However, many still speculate to this day that even though her performance was, of course, perfect, she won this Oscar to make up for the mistake the voters made the previous year when she lost the Best Actress Oscar for beautifully playing another great English monarch, Queen Victoria, in the wonderful "Mrs. Brown." Whatever the reasons for her win, though, no one will ever say she doesn't deserve one.

Next is "84 Charing Cross Road" from 1987. This gem stars Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and, based on a play by James Roose-Evans, tells the true story of the close friendship that formed through letters only between a Manhattan woman and a British used bookstore owner from 1949 to 1968. Judi plays Hopkins wife Nora and received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress for this performance. One of the most interesting things about Judi Dench I feel is that she really didn't start making a name for herself in films until the 80s (this film and "A Room with a View" (1985) being a couple of her first). She was already a national treasure in the UK though, for she is an accomplished stage actress. She even became a Dame Commander of the British Empire (you know, that honor that makes her an official Dame instead of just the colloquialism) in 1988, only a year after "Charing Cross." It was because of the James Bond films that she became such a huge international name. 

Of course, Judi Dench is most recognized for period pieces, and "Ladies in Lavender" (2004) is a nice example. Set in the 1930s, it is a sweet little film starring her and Dame Maggie Smith as two sisters who find a wounded young Polish man (played by Daniel Brühl from "Inglourious Basterds") washed up on the beach one day, and decide to nurse him back to health. Based on a short story by William J. Locke, first-time director Charles Dance visited Dench and Smith while the two were appearing together in London's West End theater district. The two dames and longtime friends agreed to the project immediately, before even seeing the script. And thank goodness, because it is so nice to see these two amazing actresses together, who are so perfectly comfortable together. Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote that Judi and Maggie "sink into their roles as comfortably as house cats burrowing into a down quilt on a windswept, rainy night."

Dame Judi Dench is one of those treasures that I could watch forever. (Of course, if I ever met her, I'd probably faint right on the spot.) If you like her even just a little fraction of how much I do, then check out some of her films this weekend. You can watch any of these films on Netflix or rent them (including "A Room with a View"). Have a wonderful, comfy, British weekend, everyone! Be back Monday with another great film.

(Post-tidbit: Judi had to wear such high heels while filming "Shakespeare in Love," to be the appropriate height, that director John Madden nicknamed her "Tudor Spice.")


  1. I am also a huge fan of dame Judi. I saw all the movies and tv series where she performed and also in 3 plays in london. She is for me the best actress in the world and a very nice person (I was lucky to meet her 2 times).

  2. I suppose it doesn't stream from Netflix, but you can order it--get Henry V, the Kenneth Branagh version with Judi in it as Mistress Quickly. It's a nearly perfect film. The cast is ridiculous from Ian Holm to Emma Thompson to Christian Bale. And Judi is radiant. I saw it in the theater in 1989, and I was stunned. I've been a loyal Judi fan ever since. Also, the Non Nobis will blow you away.

  3. You met her?! How luck are you?! One of my other favs of her is "As Time Goes By." Absolutely the cutest and sweetest TV show ever made.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I remember watching bits of "Henry V" with my big bro when I was little but since then I haven't watched it. I totally need to rent it again.