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Judi Dench’s 10 Best Films

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  01 Sep 2015 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel made more than $135 million worldwide while offering a handful of finely seasoned veteran actors a chance to prove that Hollywood doesn’t always have to be youth-obsessed. This gives us the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to returning Exotic star Judi Dench, whose long list of well-received roles includes everything from Merchant Ivory period pieces to a long stint as M in the James Bond franchise. You won’t find any of her 007 movies on this list, because they missed the cut after we added up and averaged out their scores, but that’s just another testament to the strength of Dame Dench’s filmography.

actors
9 Wetherby
imdb
rating

7.2

Wetherby (1985)

Drama, Mystery

Dench earned her second BAFTA nomination for her supporting work in David Hare’s Wetherby, a 1985 drama about the increasingly unsettling goings-on that unspool following the shocking death of a young man in the cottage of a woman (Vanessa Redgrave) whose party he’s recently attended. Beautifully cast and endowed with patiently explored narrative depths, it also started a busy string of acclaimed theatrical releases for Dench: Although she’d focused much of her energy on stage and television work since making her film debut with Four in the Morning in 1965, she found herself in increased demand after the mid-’80s, rounding out the decade with A Room with a View, 84 Charing Cross Road, A Handful of Dust, and a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded Henry V. Of Wetherby, Roger Ebert wrote, “A haunting film, because it dares to suggest that the death of the stranger is important to everyone it touches — because it forces them to decide how alive they really are.”

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The mysterious death of an enigmatic young man newly arrived in the suburb of Wetherby releases the long-repressed, dark passions of some of its residents.

actors:
Vanessa Redgrave as Jean Travers   Ian Holm as Stanley Pilborough   Judi Dench as Marcia Pilborough   Stuart Wilson as Mike Langdon   Tim McInnerny as John Morgan   Suzanna Hamilton as Karen Creasy   Tom Wilkinson as Roger Braithwaite   Marjorie Yates as Verity Braithwaite   Joely Richardson as Jean Travers  

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8 My Week with Marilyn
imdb
rating

7.0

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Drama

Attempting to portray a screen legend like Marilyn Monroe seems like the kind of thankless task for which a director would need to find an inexperienced actress who didn’t know any better — but fortunately for Simon Curtis, whose My Week with Marilyn adapts a pair of Colin Clark memoirs inspired by his time on the set of Monroe’s The Prince and the Showgirl, Michelle Williams was ready and willing to take the job. And while the events that unfold in the movie amount to little more than a footnote in Monroe’s story, her empathetic work in the role helped lift My Week above rote biopic material — as did the reliably solid performances turned in by an ace supporting cast that included Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, and Eddie Redmayne. As Stephen Whitty put it for the Newark Star-Ledger, “No other actress has quite understood the frustrated, maternal side of Monroe that informed so many of her performances. Or quite recaptured that absolutely luminous quality she had on film.”

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Sir Laurence Olivier is making a movie in London. Young Colin Clark, an eager film student, wants to be involved and he navigates himself a job on the set. When film star Marilyn Monroe arrives for the start of shooting, all of London is excited to see the blonde bombshell, while Olivier is struggling to meet her many demands and acting ineptness, and Colin is intrigued by her. Colin's intrigue is met when Marilyn invites him into her inner world where she struggles with her fame, her beauty and her desire to be a great actress.

actors:
Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark   Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier   Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh   Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike   Emma Watson as Lucy   Pip Torrens as Sir Kenneth Clark   Dominic Cooper as Milton Greene   Geraldine Somerville as Lady Jane Clark   Michael Kitchen as Hugh Perceval   Miranda Raison as Vanessa   Simon Russell Beale as Cotes-Preedy   Toby Jones as Arthur Jacobs   Robert Portal as David Orton   Jim Carter as Barry   Philip Jackson as Roger Smith  

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7 Jane Eyre
imdb
rating

7.4

Jane Eyre (2011)

Drama, Romance

Never one to shy away from a well-mounted period piece, Dench availed herself of Cary Fukunaga when the director decided to film the umpteenth adaptation of Jane Eyre in 2011 — and as she had when she signed up for Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice in 2005, she ended up being part of an unlikely latter-day classic in the bargain. Led by a marvelous Mia Wasikowska in the title role, this new-look Eyre hews closely to the Charlotte Bronte novel while adding loads of gloomy British atmosphere and assembling a parade of talented actors — including Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins, and Dench as Mrs. Fairfax — to bring the story to life. “Some of us are Jane Eyre addicts,” wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times, “and the new movie version directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga gives us just the right fix.”

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After a bleak childhood, Jane Eyre goes out into the world to become a governess. As she lives happily in her new position at Thornfield Hall, she meet the dark, cold, and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester. Jane and her employer grow close in friendship and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. Happiness seems to have found Jane at last, but could Mr. Rochester's terrible secret be about to destroy it forever?

actors:
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre   Jamie Bell as St. John   Michael Fassbender as Edward Rochester   Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax   Su Elliot as Hannah   Holliday Grainger as Diana Rivers   Tamzin Merchant as Mary Rivers   Amelia Clarkson as Young Jane   Craig Roberts as John Reed   Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed   Lizzie Hopley as Miss Abbot   Jayne Wisener as Bessie   Freya Wilson as Eliza Reed   Emily Haigh as Georgiana Reed   Simon McBurney as Mr. Brocklehurst   Sandy McDade as Miss Scatcherd   Freya Parks as Helen Burns   Edwina Elek as Miss Temple   Ewart James Walters as John   Georgia Bourke as Leah   Sally Reeve as Martha   Romy Settbon Moore as Adèle Varens   Eglantine Rembauville-Nicolle as Sophie   Rosie Cavaliero as Grace Poole   Angela Curran as Undercook   Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram   Sophie Ward as Lady Ingram   Joe Van Moyland as Lord Ingram   Hayden Phillips as Colonel Dent   Laura Phillips as Mrs. Dent   Harry Lloyd as Richard Mason   Ned Dennehy as Dr. Carter   Joseph Kloska as Clergyman Wood   Ben Roberts as Briggs   Valentina Cervi as Bertha Mason  

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6 84 Charing Cross Road
imdb
rating

7.5

84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

Drama, Romance

On paper, the story of a long-distance friendship that evolves through letters exchanged between a New York City book lover and a London bookstore owner might not seem like the most inherently filmable idea, but as 1987’s 84 Charing Cross Road proves, you don’t need a lot of flashy visuals to create absorbing cinema — particularly when you’re aided and abetted by a passel of talent, both behind the scenes (including director David Jones) and in front of the cameras, where audiences were treated to the sight of veteran actors Anne Bancroft, Judi Dench, and Anthony Hopkins sinking their considerable dramatic chops into an expanded dramatization of the real-life letters between American writer Helene Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel. Dench was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA, while Bancroft won Best Actress, and critics were generally delighted with Charing Cross; as Geoff Andrew wrote for Time Out, “The film has nothing to do with easy nostalgia; it’s about real, credible people, and as such finally becomes very moving.”

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When a humorous script-reader in her New York apartment sees an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature for a bookstore in London that does mail order, she begins a very special correspondence and friendship with Frank Doel, the bookseller who works at Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road.

actors:
Anne Bancroft as Helene Hanff   Anthony Hopkins as Frank P. Doel   Judi Dench as Nora Doel   Jean De Baer as Maxine Stuart   Maurice Denham as George Martin   Eleanor David as Cecily Farr   Mercedes Ruehl as Kay   Daniel Gerroll as Brian   Wendy Morgan as Megan Wells   Ian McNeice as Bill Humphries  

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5 Notes on a Scandal
imdb
rating

7.4

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Drama, Romance

A modern spin on the sort of mean-spirited melodrama that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis might once have chewed through, Notes on a Scandal stars Dench opposite Cate Blanchett in the tale of two London schoolteachers whose friendship teeters on the precipice of one woman’s terrible secrets and the other’s seething misanthropy. Fashioned from luridly pulpy ingredients but elevated by its powerful cast (including Bill Nighy as Blanchett’s husband), Scandal wowed critics like Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who wrote, “Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett star in a misanthropic game of cat and mouse from which no one emerges unscathed, including saps like us who think we’re watching a film about other people.”

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A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her 15-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new "friend" also go well beyond platonic friendship.

actors:
Judi Dench as Barbara Covett   Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart   Bill Nighy as Richard Hart   Juno Temple as Polly Hart   Max Lewis as Ben Hart   Andrew Simpson as Steven Connolly   Michael Maloney as Sandy Pabblem   Joanna Scanlan as Sue Hodge   Shaun Parkes as Bill Rumer   Emma Kennedy as Linda   Syreeta Kumar as Gita   Wendy Nottingham as Elaine Clifford   Jill Baker as Sheba’s Mother   Alice Bird as Saskia   Benedict Taylor as Eddie   Stephen Kennedy as Mr. Connolly   Derbhle Crotty as Mrs. Connolly   Anne-Marie Duff as Annabel  

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4 Shakespeare in Love
imdb
rating

7.2

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

History

Would people have been as enthralled by Romeo and Juliet if William Shakespeare had written it as Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter? According to the lightly history-inspired Shakespeare in Love, we missed the chance to find out only because the writer’s block-stricken playwright (Joseph Fiennes) had the good fortune to meet a bewitching young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) whose secret presence in his stage company led to a love affair that ended up inspiring the classic play. While it may not have been accurate, Love offered a whole lot of talented actors a chance to strut their stuff, including Paltrow, who won a Best Actress Oscar, and Dench, whose appearance as Queen Elizabeth I earned her her own Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. “It restores to centrality of consciousness one of the great geniuses of our civilization,” wrote Stephen Hunter for the Washington Post. “It makes us care for his greatness, for his passion, for his worth. In no uncertain terms, it tells us Willie Boy is still here.”

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Young Shakespeare is forced to stage his latest comedy, "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," before it's even written. When a lovely noblewoman auditions for a role, they fall into forbidden love -- and his play finds a new life (and title). As their relationship progresses, Shakespeare's comedy soon transforms into tragedy.

actors:
Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare   Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola De Lesseps   Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe   Tom Wilkinson as Hugh Fennyman   Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth   Imelda Staunton as Nurse   Colin Firth as Lord Wessex   Joe Roberts as John Webster   Ben Affleck as Ned Alleyn   Simon Callow as Tilney   Steven Beard as Makepeace   Jim Carter as Ralph Bashford   Rupert Everett as Christopher Marlowe   Martin Clunes as Richard Burbage   Tim McMullan as Frees  

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3 Philomena
imdb
rating

7.6

Philomena (2013)

Drama

She’s walked off with countless scenes in supporting roles, some of them amounting to little more than a few lines. With Philomena, Dench was offered the rare opportunity to carry a movie — and she proved she was more than up to the task, investing the fact-based story of a woman who reconnects with the adult son (Steve Coogan) she was pressured into giving up for adoption decades before with warmth, humor, and plenty of honest dramatic heft. Dench didn’t win her Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Philomena — one of four the film was up for, including Best Picture — but perhaps this story’s appeal is best summed up by the Best Actress honors she took home from the AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards; at a time when thoughtful movies for adults are often said to be in short supply, here’s a thoughtful rejoinder. “At its core,” observed the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “this clever, wrenching, profound story underscores the tenacity of faith in the face of unfathomable cruelty.”

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A woman searches for her adult son, who was taken away from her decades ago when she was forced to live in a convent.

actors:
Judi Dench as Philomena Lee   Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith   Michelle Fairley as Sally Mitchell   Mare Winningham as Mary   Anna Maxwell Martin as Jane   Charlie Murph as Kathleen   Simone Lahbib as Kate Sixsmith   Sophie Kennedy Clark as Young Philomena   Charles Edwards as David   Sean Mahon as Michael Hess   Amy McAllister as Sister Anunciata   Cathy Belton as Sister Claire   Kate Fleetwood as Young Sister Hildegarde   Peter Hermann as Pete Olsson  

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2 Mrs Brown
imdb
rating

7.3

Mrs Brown (1997)

Drama, History, Romance

Dench walked away with her first Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her work in John Madden’s Mr. Brown, a tasteful — if not entirely factual — dramatization of the real-life story of a Scottish servant (Billy Connolly) whose relationship with the widowed Queen Victoria (Dench) throws the royal court into a tizzy. Originally intended to air as an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, it went on to accrue acclaim — and a healthy $13 million at the box office during its arthouse run — while proving that its star’s surprising midlife career renaissance was absolutely no fluke. Observed Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “Mrs. Brown transcends its period setting not only with a keenly observed struggle between love and duty but also with the kind of controversy that envelops the Queen and her servant.”

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Queen Victoria is deeply depressed after the death of her husband, disappearing from public. Her servant Brown, who adores her, through caress and admiration brings her back to life, but that relationship creates scandalous situation and is likely to lead to monarchy crisis.

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1 A Room with a View
imdb
rating

7.4

A Room with a View (1985)

Drama, Romance

Dench earned her first BAFTA for her work in A Room with a View, taking home a Best Supporting Actress award — one of several the film won, including Best Actress (for Maggie Smith) and Best Film. Looking back, it isn’t difficult to see why: Although modern viewers may watch this sweeping period drama — about an Edwardian lass (Helena Bonham Carter) whose irrepressible fondness for a caddish rake (Julian Sands) is thwarted by an older cousin (Smith) who believes he’s a bad influence — and see pure Merchant Ivory formula, it’s important to remember that at the time, there was no such thing. Room set the template for dozens of pictures to follow, setting a bar that all but the very best have tried in vain to match — aided in no small part by a robust supporting cast that, aside from Dench, included Daniel Day-Lewis and Simon Callow (who earned a BAFTA nomination of his own). “This is a complete movie, full of life, love and hope,” wrote Dan Jardine for the Apollo Guide. “While we may occasionally forget that truth is beauty and beauty truth, thankfully films like A Room With a View will always be there as a reminder.”

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When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperon Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. Meeting the Emersons could change Lucy's life forever but, once back in England, how will her experiences in Tuscany affect her marriage plans? Nominated for eight Academy Awards (1986), including Best Picture, and winner of three, this is one the most charming and delightful romantic comedies ever filmed.

actors:
Maggie Smith as Charlotte Bartlett   Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch   Denholm Elliott as Mr. Emerson   Julian Sands as George Emerson   Simon Callow as The Reverend Mr Beebe   Patrick Godfrey as The Reverend Mr. Eager, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Florence   Judi Dench as Eleanor Lavish, a novelist   Fabia Drake as Miss Catharine Alan   Amanda Walker as The Cockney Signora   Joan Henley as Miss Teresa Alan   Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil Vyse   Maria Britneva as Mrs. Vyse, Cecil's mother   Rosemary Leach as Mrs. Honeychurch   Rupert Graves as Freddy Honeychurch  

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