Dame Judi Dench, who very briefly reprised her role as 007’s MI6 boss ‘M’ in Spectre, is going to reign again as Queen Victoria, two decades after she first portrayed Britain’s nineteenth century monarch in the movie Mrs. Brown (1997). Her performance as Victoria in that particular film (released the same year she played ‘M’ in Tomorrow Never Dies) received high praise from the critics, and helped her win both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award, together with a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars.

Dame Judi’s return back to the role of the long-serving monarch will be for Victoria and Abdul, to be directed by Stephen Frears, a movie which is based on the true story of the friendship that developed between the widowed monarch and Abdul Karim, a young Indian ledger clerk who went on to become a teacher and aid to Victoria in everything ‘Indian’ – he instructed the Queen in Urdu, cooked Indian food for her, and helped to educate her in Indian political affairs and general culture. The new movie is due to go before the cameras in September, 2016.

Dame Judi, who remains very proud of her role as ‘M’ (which came to an end after her death in Skyfall), was recently reunited with some of the members of the Bond ‘team’ when she was one of the guests at the special Bond-themed ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ gala. The gala was held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. The special evening, which took place at the Stoke Park estate in the county of Buckinghamshire (a location used both in Goldfinger and Tomorrow Never Dies), saw Dame Judi  reconnecting with former Miss Moneypenny Samantha Bond and actor Colin Salmon, who played MI6 officer Charles Robinson. She also met various other Bond luminaries during the event, including the music DJ Goldie and former 007 Sir Roger Moore, and was able to chat to the Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. At one point, Dame Judi and Barbara Broccoli were photographed together while in deep conversation. One can only speculate what course the conversation may have taken! To show her loyalty to the world of Bond, Dame Judi had decorated her shoulder with a diamante ‘007’ logo.

From ‘M’ With Love

Dame Judi, who first performed for an audience over an amazing 60 years ago, and is still going strong today, revealed in 2012 that in the past six decades she had only twice taken any time off from working: when she gave birth to her daughter, and when she was nursing her husband, Michael, who died of cancer in 2001.

Her first 007 movie, of course, was Goldeneye (1995), opposite Pierce Brosnan, a role that she was strongly encouraged to take by her husband (who was something of a Bond fan), and her final performance as ‘M’ was in the Daniel Craig Bond movie Skyfall (2012); the latter was the seventh time she had played ‘M’, but – if we include her surprise re-appearance as ‘M’ in Spectre – then in a sense she played Bond’s boss no less than eight times.

Dame Judi has been interviewed on numerous occasions over the years. A good example came in October 2012, when she was interviewed in the magazine of the UK’s Sunday newspaper The Observer during the publicity campaign for Skyfall. Dench told the Observer that she regarded the role of ‘M’ as ‘great fun’, and she recalled playing with gadgets as M in her first 007 film Goldeneye, and how she became, as she put it, ‘completely drunk with power, because I can’t mend anything, or even put the ironing board up properly’. She said she still liked the fact that she could be imperiously bossy in the Bond films, but added quickly: ‘I would hate people to think bossy is all I can do’.

She said that she got on well with Daniel Craig, and that she was thrilled to be directed again by Sam Mendes, who she had first worked with on The Cherry Orchard twenty years previously: ‘You feel great when there is someone you trust there on the bridge, a firm hand’. Regarding her interpretation of the role of M, Dench said the character had developed ‘necessarily, just by the fact I have got older, and she has to work even harder to prove she is up to it…’. When asked about her continuing compulsive drive to work, Judi commented: ‘I just feel I have to keep doing it. I never want to stop. I need to learn every day’.

Her reprisal of the role of Queen Victoria later this year again illustrates Dame Judi’s strong desire to keep working. The new movie, which is based on a book by Shrabani Basu and has a screenplay by Lee Hall, will take Dame Judi to locations in India, Scotland and the Isle of Wight.

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale