Oscar History

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Posterized: Judi Dench, Leading Lady

Good things come to those who wait. For Judi Dench that good thing would be movie stardom. She's been acting on stage since 1957 (as Ophelia in Hamlet at the age of 23), on tv since 1959 (the title role in Hilda Lessways), and on the silver screen since 1964 (The Third Secret)...  but it wasn't until 1997/1998 when Dench hit her sixties that true movie stardom happened, prompted by the double whammy of her first Oscar bid (Mrs Brown) and its follow up "oops sorry about last year" Oscar win for Shakespeare in Love (recently discussed). Isn't her career trajectory unheard of? Who doesn't even start being a movie star until their sixties? Dame Judi thats who.

Though she may soon retire (she's turning 80 a year from now) she's still in her movie prime. Her latest starring role is as Philomena, the story of a woman seeking the grown son she gave up for adoption, and it opens today in limited release. Will it bring her her 7th career Oscar nomination (her 5th in lead)? Only seven women in the history of movies have ever accomplished it before (Streep, Hepburn, Davis, Page, Berman, Fonda and Garson are the current top seven in Oscar's Actress Hierarchy each with seven or more nominations). And, finally, why is Philomena rumored to be categorized as a Drama at the Globes when the poster is screaming "COMEDY!" at the top of its marketing lungs. 

How many have you seen? 
To pad out her leading lady resume from these peak stardom years, I've included TV films

Mrs Brown (1997) - Oscar nomination, Bafta win
The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2001) - Globe win, Bafta win, Emmy nomination
Iris (2001) - Oscar nomination, Bafta win

Ladies in Lavender (2004)
Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) - Oscar nomination
Notes on a Scandal (2006) - Oscar nomination, and my vote for her all time best performance

Cranford (2007) Golden Globe, Emmy, Bafta Nominee
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) - Globe nominee
Skyfall (2011) - some may say this isn't a leading role but the plot of this film suggests otherwise 

Which of these posters brings back your fondest Dame Dench memories? 

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Reader Comments (31)

She will never top her brilliance in Notes on a Scandel. Man oh Man. what
an amazing piece of work on celluloid...

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Surprisingly, I still haven't seen Cranford. Shame on me because I declare myself a big fan of her. I totally agree with you about Notes on a Scandal. That performance is mesmerizing and I absolutely love the scene where she spreads the big secret while inviting the adorable Phil Davis to a nice cup of tea.

PS I know she plays a tiny role, but I would add the poster of "A Room with a View" just because it's marvelous :)

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Yay Posterized is back! Boo I've only seen 2! Really me? Exotic Hotel and Skyfall? I thought I've seen more. Looks like a Judi Dench Film Festival is coming soon!

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Most definitely Notes on a Scandal. Fantastic work.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

Bombshells and Lavender I've only seen parts. I've seen everything else.
Notes is my fondest memory but Dench and Winslet in the same movie is a unique cinematic achievement :)

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T


I'm basing this on what you've stated before but...

Are you saying you would give Streep the Oscar for The Devil Wears Prada over what you consider Dench's best work? Because I have a tough time choosing between the two that year...

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRene

She was so great in "Notes on a Scandal." I think she should have won.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Winslet in Little Children > Dench in Scandal > Cruz in Volver > Streep in Prada > Mirren in The Queen. Five Oscar-worthy performances.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Hmm, becoming a movie star at 60something. I guess I really can't think of any others. There are a few that found stardom later in life, like Ian McKellen, and a few that were that old when movies sorta started, like Marie Dressler.

Notes On A Scandal was shockingly raw and brilliant. And I shamefully admit I've never seen Mrs. Brown.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I wished and wished that she could've derailed the Mirren train that year. Her performance in Notes is incredible, and it's my favorite she's ever done.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Rene-if I recall correctly Judi Dench took the gold that year at the FB Awards.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Nevermind I got my answer. Unless Nathaniel's changed his mind since the "old days."

From his Streep Oscar Nominations retrospective.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRene

A great lady.

And I agree: she's a lead in Skyfall.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

"Phil" is definitely not a comedy. It's a tear-jerker drama. Dench is great. I think that's because she so much likes the person she's playing. Interesting movie. I come from more "Osage County" people who pretty much aren't happy until everyone's dead, so the sentiment in "Phil" is a little hard for me to believe but I'm now going to research the story and see how much is true. Like I said: very interesting story.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Rene- that link reminded me of when this site used to love streep :(

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

is she really a leading lady though?

I mean, Blanchett's definitely more of a leading lady and you can't get enough of calling her a supporting actress and then one day (today) you make a post about Dench being a Leading Lady, hilarious logic.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Dench is not that good in PHILOMENA. Basically just sleepwalking through it, if you ask me. Sorry, I know everyone loves this movie, but it was ridiculously sappy and unsubstantial. Hoping she gets knocked out by Amy or Adele.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Yavor -- seriously? I will never understand why Cate's fans take such affront to EVERYTHING I say about her. Even in a year wherein I just loved her in something people bitch about it.

Rene -- i am saying that, yes. I think Prada is among Streep's 4 best performances of all time (chronologically that's: Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge and Devil Wears Prada)

Jamie - i still love Streep. I just am feeling the fatigue that's all (it happens with almost any star that works all the time) and that iron lady year was just exhausting/depressing. I so wish she woulda won for Julie & Julia instead.

Joe -- i'd agree. i hadn't seen the movie until a few hours ago so i was going by the cutesy ads and posters... but yep, it's basically a drama with a few laughs. Unlike Saving Mr Banks which I maintain is a comedy with a few tears.

November 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I've seen them all. For me Mrs. Brown was her best performance, she was very fine in Notes but I hated the movie so much that it may have colored my perception.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

She was mesmerizing and at her best, at least in big-screen terms, in Notes on a Scandal. It's still my favourite performance from 2006 (I thought Streep was merely 'fine' in Prada, though I probably need to see it again, but then I rarely like her, so..).

I'm certain Dench has an even greater performance left in her, but unfortunately people don't write complex-enough roles for actresses of that age. Even "Notes" was a big get, really.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Notes on a Scandal is brilliant. I love Streep in Prada and I would have given her the Oscar, but it's close. Mirren doesn't come close to either.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

for all those actressexuals who have yet to see cranford i heartily recommend it: judi, eileen atkins, imelda staunton and a bunch of other british actresses at the top of their game. so great.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Dench is one of my favorites, and her work in "Notes on a Scandal," is a classic. Just seems funny to me how now I see few admirers of Helen Mirren's work in "The Queen.'' She did win almost every critics award that year, but in hindsight so many seem to be annoyed that she won. All five nominees in 2006 were worthy, but Mirren still stands as my choice. Streep was peerless in a role that should have gotten her Best Supporting Actress. National Society of Film Critics got that one right.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Why are people hijacking Dame Judi's appreciation topic to debate Streep and Blanchett? This is not a FYC for Philomena, folks! It's just Nathaniel being his usual actressexual bubbly self going YAY!! DAME JUDI!!! DISCUSS!! (but, you know, in a smart way). We can appreciate Dench and her career, and the particulars of having her peak at a point in which most actresses are put to pasture, without it turning into a bizarro we-must-cockblock-any-Dench-traction-give-Cate/Streep-her-Lead/Millionth-Oscar nonsense.

Coming back to Dench, I find Notes on a Scandal to be her career best, also, right up there with Mrs. Brown. Along with Iris, in qhich she delivers a solid performance, these are are her deserving noms, even though all three movies have issues. Notes I find often uneven and heavy-handed (but the subject matter is tricky, so overall I give it a pass) and the other two can be a bit dull.

She's had her share of throwaway noms, though, like Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat and Mrs. Henderson Presents. These are all pleasant movies to watch and Shakespeare in Love gets much more flack than it deserves. I like, but not love, all three. Chocolat is probably my favorite, because it makes me hungry and it was the movie that made me discover and fall in love with Juliette Binoche (the exact moment was when she delivered the line "may I interest you in some nipples of Venus?")

Apart from her Oscar-nominated material, I think Dench's M was solid, specially in Goldeneye and the Craig films, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has become a personal favorite of mine, because a friend objected to the the storyline about her getting a job in India because "I don't think she had the proper visa to be working there". So now we refer to it as "that movie where Judi Dench plays an illegal immigrant" and have fake debates whether we should consider her an illegal immigrant or an undocumented worker and suggest double features of Best Exotic with Demain Bichir's A Better Life and Bardem's Biutiful because "they touch on the same subject matter".

Hope to see Philomena soon.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

I will never understand why Cate's fans take such affront to EVERYTHING I say about her. Even in a year wherein I just loved her in something people bitch about it.

Because everything you say about her is with shade in your heart. And for that nobody wants your commentary on her at all. Choke on her greatness.

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful


I was going to argue with you, but I'll just laugh instead. Each sentence is crazier than the one before. "Choke on her greatness." Best line not uttered on AHS: Coven...

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRene

I'd love to hear your thoughts on August: Osage County! You rarely tell us your thoughts on stuff anymore, especially all these movies you've seen!

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Barbara Covett is the stuff of an actressexual's dreams. What a miracle of a performance. It's not hard to appreciate Dench, her talent and certainly her career. But she isn't someone whom I unfailingly "love" -- but "Notes on a Scandal" would be reason enough to worship at her altar. Good lord.

I really loved several of the leading performances that year. I think my preferential ballot would look something like this: Dench in "Scandal" > Penelope Cruz in "Volver" > Streep in "Prada" > Mirren in "The Queen" > Winslet in "Little Children" though truth be told, any of the first three has supplanted the other two as my winner depending on my mood, and the bottom two are interchangeable as I consider both performances to be among the least performances of either actresses careers.

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I have to rewatch Notes on a Scandal because as much as I love Dench, it was Blanchett, Nighy and Simpson who made the more lasting impressions on me. I remember thinking Dench was acting a little too much for my taste, and I wasn't so taken with the Evil Lesbian narrative of the role.

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Joe -- i know i know. i've had trouble keeping up but hopefully all will be revealed in time.

November 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I often think of another great Dame, Edith Evans. She didn't make her first appearance in a talking film until she was over 60. In 1949 there were 2 great performances back to back, "The Queen of Spades," and "Last Days of Dolwyn."

First of three Oscar nominations did not come until 1963, when she received at 75 a supporting nod for 'Tom Jones." Then another nomination for supporting actress the following year in "The Chalk Garden." But her greatest triumph came in 1967, when at age 79 she received her only Best Actress nomination, for "The Whisperers." Thankfully, she was awarded Best Actress that year by BAFTA, NY Film Critics, National Board of Review and Golden Globe, Drama.

More memorable (and some not so memorable) roles followed until her final film, "Nasty Habits," which came out the year following her death in 1977. In that campy nun-fest she co-starred with no less than Geraldine Page, Glenda Jackson, Melina Mercouri, Sandy Dennis and Rip Torn. What an exit.

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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