Judi Dench’s 41 Oscar, Globe, SAG, Emmy and AARP Movies for Grownups honors all arrived after she turned 63. At 82, says the Hollywood Reporter, she’s having “as great a third act as any actor ever has.”
“She’s grown more gorgeous with age, and she’s a total hoot,” says Deborah Moggach, author of the best-seller Tulip Fever, the book from which Dench's movie opening Sept. 1 is taken. In it Dench plays an orphan-saving abbess and tulip seller in 17th-century Amsterdam — “salty, savvy, far from pious,” says Moggach, who notes that screenwriter Tom Stoppard beefed up the part, originally a male tulip breeder, for her.
“She’s the kind of a nun who looks out for everybody,” says Dench. “We filmed at Norwich Cathedral — utterly glorious. They built a wonderful garden inside with wonderful big fat pigs and cows, and one poor pigeon who got caught in midair by a peregrine falcon on camera.” Dench felt “really upstaged” by the birds, but some say she steals the picture from Alicia Vikander, who plays Christoph Waltz’s faithless wife.
“It as quite a long time ago that we did it,” says Dench of Tulip Fever, shot and shelved in 2014, repeatedly rescheduled, and released on a low-audience weekend after multiple planned critics’ screenings were canceled. Since Dench finished work on it, she’s had 11 roles, including Evelyn Greenslade in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (also based on a Moggach novel), Princess Dragomiroff in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, coming Nov. 10, and Queen Victoria in Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Abdul, due Sept. 22.
“I never thought I’d revisit her,” says Dench of Queen Victoria, whom she played in 1997’s Mrs. Brown, royally boosting her career. This time, she plays the aged Victoria, much taken by a canny young man from India (Ali Fazal), which scandalizes her nasty, homely son Bertie, the Prince of Wales (an unrecognizable Eddie Izzard). Because the family had previously been scandalized by her relationship with her servant (and perhaps lover) John Brown, says Dench, “the family called him ‘the brown John Brown.’ They thought she was philandering about. But like John Brown, he was someone she could talk to after her husband, Albert, died. She learned Urdu from him, and how to write it. You see a human side of her.”
“It is a nostalgic journey for me, playing her,” says Dench. “I’ve gotten older; I don’t know about better. And not wiser!”
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