Sunday, December 9, 2007

What is a Dench?, or How I Came to Know and Love Dame Judi Dench

"What is a Dench?"

My friend asked me this after I expressed my love for Dame Judi Dench, legendary British actress of the stage and screen, one night during
I Love New York 2. At first I was offended that she didn't know who one of the greatest actresses ever to grace a movie screen with her presence was (she figured it out who she was after listing off some of her most "popular" films: Pride & Prejudice and Casino Royale), but then I realized how hard it is to actually define what a "Dench" is.

My first exposure to Dame Judi Dench came, I believe, in the film Shakespeare in Love. Now, I hate this film with a passion, but I would watch it over and over again to see Dame Judi's inimitable performance of a slightly campy, over-the-top Queen Elizabeth I. Over the years, I saw many of her other performances during her "comeback" period including Chocolat, Iris, The Shipping News and even her supporting performance as Anthony Hopkins' husband in 1987's 84 Charing Cross Road. While three of the four films were utter messes (Iris was the standout), Dame Judi Dench, nonetheless, shone brightly in these films.

My general fondness for Dame Judi grew to obsession/utter fear in 2005 after seeing both and
Mrs. Henderson Presents and Pride & Prejudice. It was then that I realized what an appealing combination the warmth, old lady crankiness and divalicious bitchiness she brought to all of her roles was. In Mrs. Henderson Presents, Dame Judi found just the right role for her on-screen persona- a fiesty widow who buys a rundown theater during World War II and starts putting on provocative shows. She spends the whole movie fighting with Bob Hoskins and shocking the people in the film (and the audience) by talking about "pussy" and proclaiming "who gives a fiddler's fuck?" In Pride & Prejudice, she has only a small role, but she chewed that scenery so-well, tossed off bitchy one-liners like they were nothing and showed Keira Knightley exactly who was in charge (She was so good she earned my first Diva Cup Award for Best Diva). It was also then I realized just how scared of her I was. She could cut you down to size and make you feel like the lowest person on earth.

If those two films were the appetizers to my Dame Judi Dench mania, last year's
Notes on a Scandal was a freaking Thanksgiving dinner bonanza. Not only was I utterly terrified by her obsessive, slightly lesbianic schoolteacher (I would have peed my pants in fear if Dame Judi Dench was my teacher), but she delivered, from what work of hers I've seen, her finest performance.

I often joke about how Dame Judi Dench isn't afraid to cut a bitch if she needs to. Although I don't think she's ever done it in any film, I think it's a fitting metaphor for her career. Dame Judi never submits to anyone and asserts her independence no matter what. She fights for her rights and doesn't take shit from anyone. Plus, she's a tad outrageous and over-the-top and not afraid to embrace it.

God, I love this woman and I hope you will join me in celebrating the elegant and talented Dame Judi Dench's 73rd birthday today and hope for many more years of acting brilliance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post is far too belated, but...

It occurs that there is never a time that can't use a good dose of Dench mentioning!

Hurrah to your honoring of her, the more the merrier!

Judi Dench, a total ROCKSTAR!!