Dame Judi Dench insists that, at 86, she has absolutely no intention of slowing down.
‘Retirement is not a word used in my house,’ she told me, extremely firmly, when I spoke to her this week about her new film, Belfast.
Dench, one of the few grand acting dames still working, had been on the red carpet on Tuesday evening for the London Film Festival gala screening of Kenneth Branagh’s masterful autobiographical movie (and major awards season contender), set in Northern Ireland in 1969.
In the picture, she plays Granny to a young lad (11-year-old Jude Hill) whose parents (Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan) are struggling to decide whether to remain in Belfast, which is descending into a state of war — or leave for the safety of life in the UK.
Dench’s scenes with Hill, and Ciaran Hinds as her husband the Grandfather, are by turns heart-breaking and hilarious.
Dame Judi Dench (pictured at the European premiere of ‘Belfast’) insists that, at 86, she has absolutely no intention of slowing down
A lot of that chemistry was down to her young co-star, she added.
‘Oh, he’s adorable, that boy! He was very shy, but not to the extent that he wasn’t able to do the part. There’s a wonderful, real, genuine sweetness about him. He’s a heavenly boy.’
The film was made last year during the pandemic, and although rigorous safety procedures were in place at all times, she described the feeling of being back on a film set as ‘glorious . . .like suddenly being released from a cage’.
Cast and crew worked in bubbles, with everyone masked until they had to say their lines. Which was hard for Dench, given her deteriorating eyesight (she suffers from macular degeneration), though typically she played up the humorous side of it.
‘I kept going up to the wrong person, having a conversation, and they’d say: ‘I’m not who you think I am.’
She also admitted that she was pulled up over her Northern Irish accent a lot. ‘I was a naughty girl and didn’t know it properly,’ she admitted, adding that she felt particularly ashamed given that many of her family are from the province (though her mother was born in Dublin).
Dench’s scenes with Hill, and Ciaran Hinds as her husband the Grandfather, are by turns heart-breaking and hilarious
Fifteen years ago, when I dared to ask if she’d ever contemplated giving up the profession, given how much she had already achieved, she practically barked her denial at me.
And she was just as fierce (‘I’m barking back now!’) when I tried the same tack again, wondering if perhaps the pandemic had changed her mind on the subject.
She conceded that the Covid crisis had affected her. ‘I find that your emotions are much rawer,’ she said. ‘It’s the uncertainty of not knowing how we’re going to come out of it.’
But that was not enough to put her off.
‘You don’t retire, for goodness sake! You might as well fall onto a shelf and lie down.’ Soon, she’ll begin work on the film version of Alan Bennett’s play Allelujah!, directed by Richard Eyre.
Dench has already revealed that she can now no longer read her lines; so a colleague goes through scripts with her.
‘I have sent away for a machine that might make it easier for me to read,’ she told me. ‘It’s a special screen that changes the size and density of the print.’
Actress Judi Dench appears in Kenneth Branagh’s (pictured at the London Film Festival premiere of the film on October 12) autobiographical movie, set in Northern Ireland in 1969
But the fact that she continues to act, and to entertain us, despite such obstacles has made her even more beloved (if that is possible).
When Branagh introduced her at the screening on Tuesday, the audience rose as one and gave her a standing ovation.
And it’s clear director and star form a mutual admiration society. ‘He was born on the tenth of December, and I was born on the ninth . . . many years apart,’ Judi said.
‘So maybe it’s something to do with us both being Sagittarians. I don’t know. We’ve got the same sense of humour, that’s for sure.’
As we waved goodbye after our interview, she called after me: ‘Get the flu jab!’
Jamie Dornan appears alongside Judi Dench in Branagh’s masterful autobiographical movie (and major awards season contender), Belfast
Denzel Washington had such a good time shooting Joel Coen’s thrilling film of Macbeth alongside Frances McDormand that ‘sparks were flying’, he told me.
‘Frances doesn’t play around,’ he said. ‘We got good work done.’ It shows.
The Apple Original Films/A24 production , shot in black and white by Bruno Delbonnel is breathtaking. The supporting cast is marvellous, too.
Denzel Washington had such a good time shooting Joel Coen’s thrilling film of Macbeth alongside Frances McDormand that ‘sparks were flying’, he told me
The Apple Original Films/A24 production , shot in black and white by Bruno Delbonnel is breathtaking. The supporting cast is marvellous, too
There are striking performances from Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins and Harry Melling.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth (to give it its full title) is the BFI London Film Festival’s closing gala. It will screen on Sunday with McDormand, Coen and several Brit cast members in attendance.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth (to give it its full title) is the BFI London Film Festival’s closing gala
Bond star burrows into black tragedies
Lashana Lynch, who plays the super skilled secret agent Nomi in the blockbuster Bond movie No Time To Die, went through combat of a different kind in the film she shot immediately after the 007 thriller.
The actress stars in the middle section of the screen version of writer Debbie Tucker Green’s searing play ear for eye [sic], which became a much talked about hit at the Royal Court three years ago.
Lynch was in that production, too; playing an American psychology student who’s engaged in a fierce debate with her white male professor (played by Demetri Goritsas) about the reasons behind a school shooting.
Lashana Lynch, who plays the super skilled secret agent Nomi in the blockbuster Bond movie No Time To Die, went through combat of a different kind in the film she shot immediately after the 007 thriller
The scenes (with Goritsas also reprising his stage role) are among some of the most intensely powerful I’ve seen on screen this year.
Green’s film (she also directed) examines what Lynch called ‘the exact truth that black people experience’ — and that experience is ‘trauma’.
She added that what happened on the streets, here and in the States, over the past two years ‘has made it all the more important for us to tell these stories’.
Hats off, then, to the Royal Court, BBC Film and the British Film Institute (with help from Bond producer Barbara Broccoli) for backing Green and the film’s producer Fiona Lamptey to get the movie made.
Lamptey told me that ear for eye will have its world premiere at the London Film Festival tomorrow, at the National Film Theatre.
It will also be shown on BBC2 that night; and will be available later on BBC iPlayer.
Hats off, then, to the Royal Court, BBC Film and the British Film Institute (with help from Bond producer Barbara Broccoli) for backing Green and the film’s producer Fiona Lamptey to get the movie made
What an exhilarating London Film Festival! Tricia Tuttle and her team gathered so many exceptional movies: The Power Of The Dog, The Lost Daughter, Spencer, The Souvenir: Part II, King Richard, Passing, The Hand Of God, Encounter, The Tender Bar, Mass, Last Night In Soho, The Velvet Underground — and of course Belfast and Macbeth, mentioned elsewhere on these pages.
Benedict Cumberbatch in the Power of the Dog, which premiered at the London Film Festival