7 Best Movies to Watch by Judi Dench

Staff & contributors

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amber Batty, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Gary Lilburn, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Marie Jones, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Nika McGuigan, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: PG-13

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Chris McCurry, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Drew Dillon, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, James O'Donnell, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Kit Rakusen, Lara McDonnell, Leonard Buckley, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Acerbic diary excerpts provide the narration for this taut psychological thriller, but don’t be fooled: as Notes on a Scandal teases, single schoolteacher Barbara (Judi Dench) might not be filling these pages with the truth — at least, not intentionally. There are early tells that she might not be as reliable a narrator as we expect, given her reputation as a no-nonsense battleaxe: for one, her characteristic surliness dissolves alarmingly quickly upon meeting Sheba (Cate Blanchett), an idealistic young art teacher. Notes on a Scandal doesn’t overplay this hand, though: until its explosive climax, the psychological drama is mostly read between the lines, as we watch Barbara enthusiastically pursue a “friendship” with her younger colleague. 

What makes Notes doubly gripping is that Barbara isn’t the only one hiding dark secrets: as she soon discovers, the married Sheba has begun a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. That disturbing revelation gives Barbara an upper hand, a means of manipulating Sheba into validating her delusions about their relationship. What follows is a gripping twin character study, one that plays out in the heightened realm of a melodrama as their sordid secrets become entwined. Darkly camp and spanning just 92 perfectly paced minutes, this is an intense immersion into two very ugly psyches.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Andrew Simpson, Anne-Marie Duff, Barry McCarthy, Benedict Taylor, Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett, Debra Gillett, Derbhle Crotty, Emma Kennedy, Gabrielle Brooks, Jill Baker, Joanna Scanlan, Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie, Juno Temple, Kevin Hudson, Michael Maloney, Miranda Pleasence, Phil Davis, Shaun Parkes, Stephen Kennedy, Tameka Empson, Tom Georgeson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Richard Eyre

A Room with a View is downright beautiful. Amidst the impressionistic scenery of Florence’s and England’s countrysides, paired with iconic classical opera, some of Britain’s best actors bare the feelings of their snobbish, upper-class characters in stylish and historically-accurate costumes. But all of these elements aren’t just silly decorations. Like the novel it’s based on, the characters’ refined and respectable veneer, and their insistence on propriety, is a front that hides the feelings stirring in their gut, particularly that of the lovers George Emerson (Julian Sands) and Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). Inevitably, these feelings can’t be contained– they can only be examined. And when Emerson earnestly declares his love, it’s so powerful to be seen as one’s self rather than as decoration.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Fabia Drake, Helena Bonham Carter, James Wilby, Joan Henley, Judi Dench, Julian Sands, Kitty Aldridge, Luigi Di Fiore, Maggie Smith, Matyelok Gibbs, Mia Fothergill, Patricia Lawrence, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Cellier, Peter Munt, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: Not Rated

A sleek revision of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre features Mia Wasikowska as the titular governess and Michael Fassbender as her employer-and-lover-with-a-secret, Rochester — both lending stunningly aggrieved performances to the tale of their burgeoning love affair. The film is somber yet wonderfully polished as it plays out their individual complexities and growing passions. This film is also notable as the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Fukunaga, who would go on to great acclaim for his work on the first season of True Detective as well as Beasts of No Nation. Fans of Fukunaga’s work are just a likely to enjoy this one as are devotees of well-crated adaptations of classic literature.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amelia Clarkson, Angela Curran, Ben Roberts, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Craig Roberts, Edwina Elek, Eglantine Rembauville-Nicolle, Emily Haigh, Ewart James Walters, Freya Parks, Freya Wilson, Georgia Bourke, Harry Lloyd, Holliday Grainger, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Jayne Wisener, Joe Van Moyland, Joseph Kloska, Judi Dench, Lizzie Hopley, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Ned Dennehy, Romy Settbon Moore, Rosie Cavaliero, Sally Hawkins, Sally Reeve, Sandy McDade, Simon McBurney, Sophie Ward, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Tamzin Merchant, Valentina Cervi

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: PG-13

An inksetter in New York, Quoyle returns to his family's longtime home, a small fishing town in Newfoundland, with his young daughter, after a traumatizing experience with her mother, Petal, who sold her to an illegal adoption agency. Though Quoyle has had little success thus far in life, his shipping news column in the newspaper "The Gammy Bird" finds an audience, and his experiences in the town change his life.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Cate Blanchett, Gordon Pinsent, Jason Behr, Jeannetta Arnette, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Kevin Spacey, Larry Pine, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans, Robert Joy, Scott Glenn

Director: Lasse Hallström

Rating: R

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel invites us to an earnest meditation on old age and change. The film centers on a group of British retirees traveling to the titular hotel in India, in hopes of a good retirement. The group cast is an excellent choice: prominent names from British movies and television line the cast, and it’s a pleasure to see them act alongside each other with equal screen time and their own detailed plotlines. Their plotlines inspire empathy towards different struggles that the elderly face: finding love again, dealing with accumulated debt, and handling loss. All of these are tough, but especially when you feel your time has run out. The best of these plotlines are the ones that acknowledge loss but still persist through accepting changing circumstances and actively going for one's desires.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Diana Hardcastle, Glen Davies, Honey Chhaya, Jay Villiers, Judi Dench, Lillete Dubey, Liza Tarbuck, Louise Brealey, Lucy Robinson, Maggie Smith, Nina Kulkarni, Patrick Pearson, Paul Bentall, Paul Bhattacharjee, Penelope Wilton, Rajendra Gupta, Ramona Marquez, Richard Cubison, Ronald Pickup, Sara Stewart, Siddharth Makkar, Simon Wilson, Tina Desai, Tom Wilkinson, Vishnu Sharma

Director: John Madden

Rating: PG-13