Monday Face/Off: Judi Dench

John (spends every holiday wandering around Scotland forlornly waving a Victorian handkerchief):
Well, this one’s in the bag already. How could anyone dislike Dame Judi Dench, the Oscar-winning deputy Queen of England and reigning Empress of British cinema? Her fifty-six years in showbusiness have seen Dench win more Baftas than you have fingers (eleven), almost as many Oliviers as you actually have fingers once you discount the thumbs (seven) and loads of other things I can’t think of tenuous finger-related ways of counting, plus we totally ruined her big Bond exit last year so I feel like BFF owes her an easy ride. Do your worst, Thompson, but don’t forget she probably has a coronet to hit you with.

Ray (swats the small as regularly as he does flies):
I see. In attempting to daunt me with tales of the vile Dench’s awards-laden career you have merely fallen sweetly into my trap. What does it say about the quality of British acting over the past fifty years when this tiny little creature can defy her stature with such a weight of statues? As the diminutive dame said herself when she won her only Oscar for playing (yawn) another English queen, she only deserved a tiny little piece of him. And that is all I’m prepared to give Dame Dench, unlike the unimaginative small minded judges of the British academy. In any case, don’t come to me with the results of popularity contests John, I want examples of true gold-plated quality. And where are Dench’s? Oh that’s right, in the theatre, where, unfortunately, they do not generally record the stuff. How convenient for her, and for you.

Since I am innocent of this crime, sir, I find it to be decidedly inconvenient. The crime in question is Denchophobia, and I’m quoting The Shawshank Redemption – one of very few brilliant films, ever, to not star Judi Dench. How can you possibly dismiss the Dame’s cinematic output? She’s played a couple of Queens, which is allowed, but she’s also brought culture to the masses with her performances in A Room With A View, The Importance of Being Earnest, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre – to say nothing of an extraordinary legacy of small-screen Shakespeare. And to top it off, she’s been one of our most profitable international exports through the last seventeen years of Bond films. How can you possibly shout down M?

Four words will do the trick: pursed lips slit eyes. Take a look at any picture of darling Denchie and you’ll be immediately struck, and struck cold, by these two giant features on her piglet face. You cannot get past them. I think there must have been some giant mistake at some point in the late seventies when critics and audiences decided that looking weird was more important than being able to act. Perhaps this was some drugged up reaction against the classical good looks of, say, an Olivier, versus the stunted weirdness of a Hoffman or indeed a Dench. I regard the reduction of M to the role of possibly-kinky-but-not-quite-up-for-it school headmistress as a massive piece of misogyny, actually. What’s more, her preference for patriarchal patronising to the masses in the list of British drabbery you just mentioned is symptomatic of Dench’s innate conservatism – she clearly hates the public, hates women and yet we insist on loving her for it. It’s mass masochism and I for one intend to take a stand. No more, Dame Judi. Not in my name!

Oh, you miserable git. Judi Dench was quite the pixie-haired looker in her youth, and at the grand old age of seventy-eight I really don’t think it’s fair to go after her appearance. Plus, who says she’s out of touch? Dench wore some 007-inspired diamante body art to the recent premiere of Skyfall, and while I think I’ll stop short of actually linking to it (it’s pretty grim) at least she’s trying to keep up with the times. We can hardly say the same of ridiculous caricatures like, oh, LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE FROM THE 60S, can we? Plus, she was in The Chronicles of Riddick – a brave, if slightly misguided, demonstration of her commitment to keeping up with her audience. Dench straddles the ages like some sort of giant age-straddling thing, and I love her for it.

Yes, John, I bet you love Judi Dench’s straddling; I won’t pursue that line of filth. Speaking of which, I’ll grant you there is something quite dirty about debutante-Dench – pity that it’s in a ‘schoolboy who fell into the mud and was kept there all afternoon taunted by the prefects’ sort of way. As for ridiculous caricatures, do you know that the Wench actually micturated on stage during her performance as Lady Macbeth alongside Sir Ian McKellen? I don’t quite know what this has to do with caricatures, but it is certainly disgusting and surely did the Old Vic cleaning ladies no favours, night after night. Can you imagine the Napoleonic-arrogance of the women? If you can, then maybe you should go join Paul Schofield in her little Dear Friends of Judi Club. I’m sure he’d be delighted to have you between his twin commitments of accusing public figures of pedophilia on national television and dipping his hair in silver. Perhaps Schofield gave her the diamante idea? Either way, I’m feeling sick.

Blimey. I feel I’m losing ground in the face of your dreadful, drooling distaste for the Dame, so I’m going to try one desperate attempt at a riposte before I bow out gracefully and go catch up on Chocolat. When Peter Hall, the then director of the RSC, asked Dench to play Cleopatra she flatly refused, saying that her interpretation of the role was bound to come across as a “menopausal dwarf”. Dench was eventually won round, and her performance (which was later televised) was universally acclaimed. How could this combination of humility, towering talent and charmingly short stature fail to move you?

Because the truth doesn’t move John. The truth does not move. At least, not in the physical sense. I mean it wouldn’t if there were such a thing. Look, hang the metaphor along with Dench’s reputation. I can only imagine the odious take that Judi Dench had on Cleopatra – “The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne/Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold” [Judi defecates on the word ‘poop’; audience go wild, flowers are presented]. And no I will not watch the filmed version, she does not deserve to be encouraged. Peter Hall has poop on his hands. As do we all, now. Happy Monday.

Yes, well I hope you go blind too.


Where do you stand on Dame Judi? Let us know below!


By John Underwood and Ray Thompson

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