Older Women Week: Judi Dench Carries ‘Notes On A Scandal,’ and Other Badass Accomplishments

Notes on a Scandal film poster.
Dame Judi Dench is a favorite of mine and definitely worthy of this appropriately named tumblr.
Dench played the wonderful Armande Voizon in Chocolat, a witty, brooding mother who gluttonously indulged despite having diabetes. She doesn’t have the “traditional” Bond Girl look and physique, but she kicks major ass as M (who is supposed to be a man) in the James Bond films. Sadly, it is her appearance in the Bond films that gets her the most recognition. She also voiced the darling Mrs. Lilly on the British animated series, Angelina Ballerina, and I have no shame in admitting that my hard drive houses several episodes. We can’t forget her unforgettable turns in Importance of Being EarnestIris, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Henderson Presents and so on.
When I see Dench on screen, I don’t see an aging actress fading and desiring work outside of matronly figure. I see a talented woman full of zesty relish and passion for her craft. Notes on a Scandal showcased a terrifying brilliance unlike anything I had ever seen from her, ultimately proving that Dench can wear many hats.
Barbara (Judi Dench) in her turtleneck and sweater cardigan wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Dench’s earlier portrayed characters contain humor and charm. In Notes on a Scandal,  a film based on Zoe Heller’s novel, Barbara Covett certainly has that nestled inside her sea of condescending criticisms of the world around her. She drifts sans lifeboat and purpose; her greatest love is writing scribbles and taking care of her cat. Young, sensually stirring, carefree Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) floats listlessly into Barbara’s mundane life. A dark and sinister side disguised underneath a mask of a nonthreatening single old woman emerges with savage claws and teeth bared, waiting with perceptive eyes to strike into Sheba’s vulnerability.
There’s an imperative reason why Dench was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a film for Notes On a Scandal. The Academy can be a load of BS with their ageism and racism, but sometimes, they get it right. It’s also quite wonderful to point out that Dench scored her first nomination at 64, her first and only win at 65, and four nods after– the last being Notes on a Scandal. For people to say that she is too old for anything is imply unstated and wrong on all counts. She truly is at her artistic best.
In the Guardian’s article called, “I Never Want to Stop Working,” Dench briefly touches on why she felt compelled to play such a wicked character.
“I remember reading the novel Notes on a Scandal and thinking: I would love to play that woman, to try to find a humanity in that dreadful person. I was thrilled to be asked to do that.”
Barbara’s (Judi Dench) cat just died and she’s going postal on Sheba (Cate Blanchett) for trying to “abandon” her during the mourning process.
Notes on a Scandal is almost a Single White Femalesituation and some parts are unsettling in this disturbing thriller. Except that Barbara doesn’t want to mimic Sheba. She wants her. The undeniable tension between Barbara and her ravenous fixation on Sheba manifests into an overwhelming viscerally charged moment of raw intensity. Barbara is seeking sensual validation and believes that Sheba holds the key to fulfilling the fragmented jigsaw. She is deluded into actually concluding that Sheba is the missing puzzle piece that fits into an isolated world longing for female companionship. Sheba, so naive and unaware of Barbara’s lesbian attraction and dishonorable intentions, is just as lost and confused as the young boy she seduced. 
Dench plays the hell out of this demented woman on the brink of lunacy with a sweet voice coated in cold calculating manipulation and demure blue eyes spurning icy darts of pure evil. I was so used to  her sweet and congenial characters that Barbara Covett just literally frightened the depths of my soul. She is an unrootable and unstable character, yet smart and sly. It opened up this strange can of worms–I love Dench, but for the life of me, I despised Barbara and her sick, compulsive selfishness. Why couldn’t she have asked Sheba, “Let’s be friends?” Why deceive?
With close cropped silver hair and a diligent work ethic, Judi Dench continues to defy Hollywood’s obsession with long hair and youth.

Notes on a Scandal is a twisted piece of filmmaking that does touch on age and the desire to stay trapped inside youthfulness–that place where all the cool people reside. I have yet to read Zeller’s book, but feel compelled that I must do so.
As for Judi Dench, let’s applaud her never-ending quest to continue shining through and not letting a little thing like age get in the way of a versatile career. I see another Oscar nod or two in her future.