Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Guest Post - Two Degrees of Judi Dench

Hello, All! Big Sister here with my first solo guest post ... Jenny is away in Europe (Paris and Amsterdam) with the Squire and her two handsome sons for a couple of weeks and has left this blog in my hands to continue the postings while she's "abroad". Silly sister ... I promise that I won't go off onto too many tangents and will keep The Jane Austen Film Club going in her absence ... so here we go!

JUDI DENCH - The Queen (in more than one sense) of the Period Drama

Longtime followers of this blog may remember that Jenny has referred to an ongoing conversation that she and I have about the possibility that (at any given time) there are really about only 30 British actors working in Period Dramas ... because we keep seeing the same wonderful faces showing up in (often) quite different roles. Her recent "Actor of the Week" series really highlights this - but I would like to give my own spin on it with a game we've developed called "Two Degrees of Judi Dench" (based on the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon idea) ... I'm going to try to work my way through the list of actors that we have put together, and will endeavour to show how almost any actor in a costume drama is only separated from Judi Dench by two degrees (at most!) of distance.

But first, we start with Dame Judi herself! Although she was well-known to Anglophiles as a wonderful stage and television actress through the '60s and '70s, I first remember seeing her as the novelist Eleanor Lavish in the wonderful (and very romantic) Merchant/Ivory film called "A Room With A View" (1985).

Dame Maggie Smith as Charlotte (left) and Dame Judi Dench as Elinor Lavish (right) in "A Room With A View" (1985)

It was a crackerjack supporting role as the forthright, nosy, opinionated female novelist, and was a perfect foil to Dame Maggie Smith's role as the twittery and passive-aggressive chaperone Charlotte to her cousin Lucy Honeychurch (played by Helena Bonham-Carter). If you haven't seen it - or haven't seen it lately - RUN (don't walk) to the video store/Amazon/Netflix and track it down! You'll absolutely love it ... I promise!

Billy Connolly as John Brown and Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown" (1997)

Judi Dench credits Miramax Film for moving her up to a leading film actress in "Mrs. Brown" (1997) about Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert. She starred in this film with Billy Connolly, the Scottish standup comic and actor, who portrays John Brown, a member of the Queen's staff at Balmoral, whose burgeoning friendship with Victoria brings her out of her depression. Confession time: I haven't yet seen this film, but based on what I've read (and this trailer on YouTube), I will definitely be checking it out in the near future!

Colin Firth as Lord Wessex and Dame Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998)

Dame Judi's 1999 Oscar was awarded for an eight-minute performance in only four scenes as Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). Being a complete film geek, I will tell you that it was the second shortest ever performance to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (the only shorter performance being Beatrice Straight's six-minute performance in "Network" in 1976). "Shakespeare in Love" was another fun, fantastic film and a prime place for spotting more of the 30 British Actors that Jenny and I often talk about.

Dame Judi Dench as Miss Matty Jenkyns in "Cranford" (2008 & 2009)

Judi Dench's performance as Miss Matty Jenkyns in "Cranford" (2008 & 2009) was a delight; and according to the interviews in the Bonus Features on the DVD, everyone had a great time during the filming. According to all, Dame Judi is charming and personable and made everybody feel at home on the set. And the development of the character of Miss Matty through the two series of "Cranford" is sweet and natural: from meek younger sibling to a role of leadership in the female-populated community of Cranford.

Other notable Judi Dench Period Drama roles:

Jane Eyre (2011) - Mrs. Fairfax

Pride and Prejudice (2005) - Lady Catherine de Bourg

The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) - Lady Augusta Bracknell

Hamlet (1996) - Hecuba

Henry V (1989) - Mistress Nell Quickly

So catch up on some (or all) of these movies with the incomparable Judi Dench, and then stay tuned - in my future posts, I'll show you how your favourite British actors in period dramas are connected by no more than "Two Degrees of Judi Dench"!


  1. Hello Big Sister, I hope Jenny enjoys her European holiday. I envy her. As for Judi Dench, she has to be one of my all-time favorite actresses. I loved her in 84 Charing Cross, and she didn't say a word as the wife of the bookstore manager. I've never seen a bad performance. She's sensational. Loved the post and agreed with every word of it.

  2. Thanks, Mary! Judi Dench is indeed a British "national treasure" and an incredibly prolific and hard-working actress ... Jenny and I have had many long discussions about her work, and noticed a while ago that she was the common denominator in many Period Dramas (hence the game "Two Degrees ...). Thanks for the reminder about "84 Charing Cross Road" - I don't think I've seen it since it first came out, and it must have been before Dame Judi was really on my radar screen! I'll have to take another look for her wordless (yet obviously memorable!) performance. Cheers, Big Sister

  3. Hey Big Sis! I can finally comment on your great guest post now that I am back. Loooove Dame Judi and all of her roles.

    I cannot, however, believe that you have not seen Mrs. Brown! And you call yourself my sister???? I promise to watch Room With a View again (it has been a while) if you track down Mrs. Brown. We will both be the better for it.

    Thanks again! Hope you had fun other than fighting with Blogger!

  4. I think Dame Judi just can't go wrong in any role. She's amazing. Not period dramas but I love the series "As Time Goes By" - she's wonderful, great comedy. I loved Mrs. Brown.




Related Posts with Thumbnails