Judi Dench Guides Us Through Her Brilliant Career (Photos)
A version of this story about Judi Dench first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Dame Judi Dench and and Sir Kenneth Branagh’s twelfth collaboration since they met in 1987 was a auspicious one: Playing her longtime friend’s grandmother in his autobiographical coming-of-age drama “Belfast” earned Dench her eighth Oscar nomination. (Branagh didn’t fare too poorly, either: He now has nominations in more categories than anyone in Oscar history.)
“It is good, always, to know somebody so well that you have a kind of shorthand with them, which I have with Ken because we’ve worked together for such a long time,” Dench told TheWrap. “But this was a very personal story to him and we all, I think, felt a tremendous responsibility to him to get it right. And I hope that’s what we did.”
Dench’s career, of course, was thriving for decades before she and Branagh crossed paths. She spent years in the London theater beginning in the 1950s, performing alongside the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Ian McKellen, won her first BAFTA Award as Most Promising Newcomer for the film Four in the Morning in 1965 and went on to land Oscar nominations for Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love (for which she won), Chocolat, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, Philomena and now Belfast—as well as playing spymaster M in eight James Bond movies.
Here, Dench offers her takes on photos from throughout a career that, she said, was never really planned. “I never know,” she said. “I just wait and hope that something will turn up.”
“My very first job, playing Ophelia (in Hamlet) at the Old Vic in 1957. I just hope I didn’t do this gesture during the performance!“
“Playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford in 1962. Exquisite costumes by Lila De Nobili and my wig was made from yak hair in Paris.“
1963: “This was at the Palladium, London in aid of charity. We had such fun!” (Dench is far right, with Peggy Cummins, Sylvia Syms, Janette Scott, Anna Massey, Liz Fraser, Eunice Gayson, Hayley Mills and Juliet Mills)
1968: “I had the tremendous thrill of playing Sally Bowles in the London production of Cabaret. I went to see Hal Prince and he asked if I could come back the next day and sing something. I remember being so frightened that I had to sing it from the wings! Hal told me to keep Christopher Isherwood’s book beside me and I read his description of Sally Bowles every night before going on stage.“
1968: “I have never seen this photo before but I seem to be having a very nice time!“
1985: “This is me having a glorious time in Italy on A Room With a View with Helena Bonham Carter. It was filmed in Florence and I remember a scene in the middle of a poppy field with Maggie Smith—they found a field but it had no poppies. Maggie and I were directed to a spot in the field and they had to throw artificial poppies all around us.” (James Ivory, right.)
1999: “My Oscar (for Shakespeare in Love) was presented to me by Robin Williams—he was adorable and curtseyed!“
2008: “Here is a picture of Daniel Craig and me standing in the snow looking frightfully serious (on Quantum of Solace).“
2013: “The person who is not in the picture is the important one in this: Steve Coogan, who played Martin Sixsmith, kept me laughing throughout the whole shoot (of Philomena). I had the great good fortune to meet the real Philomena days before filming. She was utterly charming with a great sense of humour. It was invaluable for me to have met her before playing the part.“
2021: “I have worked with Kenneth Branagh on 12 different occasions; there must be an episode like this picture in every one of them. And somehow the more solemn and serious the part is, the more laughs we have. This is just one of those occasions, filming Belfast.”
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.