Judi Dench Brings Her Exuberant Talent And Heart To Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast

And three other films graced by her majestic presence

Having acted now for over 60 years, Dame Judi Dench appears to just be getting started. Her much-lauded performance in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast demonstrates what a recent UK poll made clear when it reported that “Dame Judi Dench was voted the best female British star of the 21st century.” In Belfast, Branagh recreated the world of his own youth growing up in Northern Ireland by centering the story around the experiences of a nine-year-old boy named Buddy (Jude Hill). His world revolves about going to the movies, helping his Ma (Caitríona Balfe) while his Pa (Jamie Dornan) works abroad in England, and hanging out with his beloved grandparents (Dench and Ciarán Hinds). For The Playlist, Dench and Hinds make an “adorable odd couple [who] steal every scene they’re in with their banter and heartfelt reactions to the innocent questions.”

Dench made her professional debut in 1957 at London’s Old Vic as Ophelia in Hamlet. The critic for the London Evening Standard quibbled that her talent will be “shown to better advantage when she acquires some technique.” Not only did she acquire some technique, but Dench is now one of the most acclaimed actresses of all time. For her film work, she has been nominated for an Academy Award® seven times, winning for Shakespeare in Love. She has won a Golden Globe and BAFTAs for her television work. In theater, she broke records in 2016 after winning eight Olivier Awards, and in 2010, the noted British theater journal The Stage voted her the Best Theater Actor of All Time. But in Belfast, she is just Granny.

Get tickets to Belfast now.

The official trailer for Belfast

Judi Dench as Queen Victoria in Victoria & Abdul

Victoria & Abdul | A Very Human Queen 

Having won an Academy Award® for playing Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, as well as having been nominated for one for playing Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, Judi Dench was heir apparent to assume the female title role in Stephen Frears’s Victoria & Abdul. In this haunting, true story about a friendship between the British monarch and a lowly clerk from India (Ali Fazal), Dench again demonstrates what makes her acting royalty. Frears comments, “she’s so phenomenal at playing a queen, because she’s adored and trusted by everyone, including the current queen.” Her true talent, however, is not so much in bringing royalty to the screen as in giving a queen human proportion. As The Independent notes, “She is haughty and imperious when she needs to be but brings quiet humour and tenderness to the role too.”

Watch Victoria & Abdul now on iTunes or Amazon.

The official trailer for Victoria & Abdul

Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride & Prejudice.

Pride & Prejudice | A Commanding Force 

When Joe Wright was casting Pride & Prejudice, Judi Dench was his only choice to play the icy aristocrat Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But how could a first-time filmmaker like Wright convince a legend like Dench to come onboard? He wrote her a letter, gushing, “I love it when you play a bitch.” Dench responded by immediately signing on to the production. Given her assignment, Dench handled it masterfully. The New York Times describes her demeanor as “elocution curdled with contempt and kept on ice; upwardly tilted facial posturing with narrowing eyes; and the deployment of artful humiliation.” Indeed, Austen fans proclaimed her “by far the most imposing and imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh to date.” Others highlighted how her small role made a huge difference to the film. “Dench demonstrates the power of the character — and her power as an actress — by doing as little as possible, frighteningly well…She is the perfect gorgon,” exclaims Slate, adding, “Her very existence makes Jane Austen indispensable — and this Pride & Prejudice (ampersand and all) a joy to behold.”

Watch Pride & Prejudice now on iTunes or Amazon.

The official trailer for Pride & Prejudice

Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre | The depth of character 

In Cary Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre, Judi Dench plays the humble, mysterious Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper at Thornfield Hall. Screenwriter Moira Buffini admits that she had Dench in mind for the character, and even enlarged the role because “she is very, very important. Jane has had no mother, so Mrs. Fairfax is the closest she gets to that.” As the keeper of the house in the absence of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), Mrs. Fairfax not only nurtures Jane (Mia Wasikowska), but attempts to steady the master’s mercurial reign. With Rochester gone, as Roger Ebert points out, Dench’s Fairfax is so much more than a simple servant: “Here Judi Dench's contribution is significant; the tone of her voice conveys so much more about Rochester than her words.” But her performance, as the Austin Chronicle points out, is “is a thorough delight as she upholds the difficult line between discretion and compassion.”

Watch Jane Eyre now on iTunes or Amazon.

Jane Eyre featurette.