A new documentary about Judi Dench, to be screened on the UK’s BBC-2 TV channel on December 30th, will have contributions from 007s past and present, together with comments from Sam Mendes.
The new programme, entitled All the World’s Her Stage, will explore the stage and screen career of 82-year old Dame Judi, who very briefly reprised her role as 007’s MI6 boss ‘M’ in Spectre. Current James Bond Daniel Craig, and previous Bond Pierce Brosnan – who both served under Dame Judi when she played Bond’s MI6 boss ‘M’ – will offer comments about their experiences working with the acclaimed actress.
According to the Sunday Times (December 11th), Craig will argue in the new documentary that the original casting of Dench as ‘M’ in Goldeneye in 1995 had been ‘inspired. It allowed a female voice, something that was probably needed in the Bond franchise. She came in and made it her own’. Craig will also reflect on the part he played in ‘killing off’ Dench as ‘M’ in Skyfall, something that was ‘the biggest and most emotionally charged story we could tell’.
Sam Mendes, who directed Craig in two Bond movies before he stepped aside, will also refer to this major storyline decision about ‘M’: ‘We had to break the news to Judi. That wasn’t so easy’. Referring to her wider contribution to the 007 franchise, Mendes explains: ‘She gave the role of ‘M’ a context for the first time, rather than us feeling we were in this permanent time warp of 1969 or 1972, a Connery/Moore axis’.
Pierce Brosnan, in his contribution, will recall that Dench – who had made her name as one of Britain’s leading theatre actresses – was initially worried about leaving the stage for an action film. However, she went on to become hugely popular as ‘M’ and also became a roaring success in other film roles, collecting seven Academy Award nominations and picking up a best supporting actress Oscar.
Dench’s career post-Bond shows no sign of slowing. She loves to work and keep busy. Interestingly, she 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). Dench’s 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 is for Victoria and Abdul, 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 began shooting in September, 2016.
Bond Never Dies
Dame Judi, who remains very proud of her role as ‘M’ (which came to an end, of course, after her shock death in Skyfall), was briefly reunited with some of the members of the Bond ‘team’ earlier this year, 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. To show her continued loyalty to the world of Bond, Dame Judi had decorated her shoulder with a diamante ‘007’ logo!
For Our Eyes Only
Dame Judi, who first performed for an audience over an amazing 60 years ago, 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 late husband (who was a big 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’. However, 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’.
Dame Judi 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 again illustrates Dame Judi’s strong desire to keep working, despite some serious problems she has had in recent years with her eyesight.
The new movie, which is based on a book by Shrabani Basu and has a screenplay by Lee Hall, has used locations in India, Scotland and the Isle of Wight. It is due for release in 2017.
Judi Dench on the set of Skyfall with Sam Mendes