My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress Ranking Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

Winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
10. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)

11. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
12. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
13. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
14. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
15. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
16. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
17. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
18. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
19. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
20. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)

21. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
22. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
23. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
24. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
25. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
26. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
27. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
28. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
29. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
30. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)

31. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
32. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
33. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
34. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
35. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
36. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
37. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
38. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
39. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
40. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)

41. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
42. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Judi Dench as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown


I realize right away that my positioning of Judi Dench might be a bit controversial. Her loss at the Oscars has caused outrageous reactions almost right away, leading to a so-called “make up Oscar” the next year and putting her forever into the usual “The biggest Oscar robberies of all time” lists. Helen Hunt’s victory over Judi Dench has almost reached a Judy Garland vs. Grace Kelly-level which is certainly astonishing since we are not talking about one of America’s most beloved musical legends in her greatest on-screen performance but an English character actress in a subtle performance as Queen Victoria in a little movie that was initially meant for TV instead of the big screen.

I cannot comment yet on the “robbed” argument as I need to see Helen Hunt’s performance again but as you can see from my ranking, I don’t consider her work some kind of undeniable masterpiece and I am honestly a bit perplexed by the extremely high reputation of this performance. Don’t get me wrong – if an unknown, English character actress can get her first plum leading role at the age of 63, receiving her first of (so far) seven Oscar nominations at an age where most actresses cannot get any work at all, winning a Tony for her stage work, getting a supporting role in the James Bond franchise and quite simply become a household name in the US, then I am surely the last to complain! Sudden international careers like that of Judi Dench are incredibly rare at this age and how wonderful is it to see this happen to an actress of such talent, grace and poise.

So, why don’t I position her work higher? When talking about Judi Dench’s performance, I think it is best to start with the parts I don’t regard that highly and then come to the positive aspects. First of all, my main problem of Mrs. Brown is quite simply the script – I admit that the movie itself is both entertaining and touching and presents a very strong ensemble but I don’t think that the central character of Queen Victoria is truly written in a challenging or long-lasting way. I read a lot of reviews that praised Judi Dench for bringing this complex woman to live and I do believe that Queen Victoria was a complex person (I’m sure most royals are) – but I don’t think that I see this complexity in Mrs. Brown. Here, the Queen’s only purpose seems to be to suffer the death of her husband and nothing about the way she is written truly suggests her royal background. When you get right down it, Mrs. Brown is the kind of TV movie where an old widow/widower falls in love with an unconventional man/woman and has to fight for this love against the will of his/her disapproving children. This does offer various moving moments to Judi Dench but unfortunately I never get the feeling that I am truly watching the Queen of England as the script never concerns itself with these matters. I do appreciate that the movie wanted to show another side of Queen Victoria but I think that very often she becomes almost a side character in her very own story (apparently, Billy Connolly was campaigned as a supporting actor which was category fraud of the highest level – I would estimate that he has a larger role than Judi Dench).

I think the major problem of the script is that Queen Victoria is presented as such a passive character. The title Mrs. Brown is not only true for the fact that Queen Victoria was mocked by her critics for her affection to Mr. Brown but also because she is very often reduced to her relationship to this character. This is also the reason why Mrs. Brown barely makes Queen Victoria seem truly royal – everything she does appears to be out of the intentions of other characters. She begins the movie as the grieving widow but it only takes a few moments opposite Mr. Brown before she starts riding out with him and then a few more moments before she enjoys life again. Queen Victoria appears to be totally dependent on Mr. Brown – I do appreciate that the movie presents him as the man who helped her overcome her grief but Mrs. Brown as a movie never presents any true character development. Years after Mr. Brown entered her life, she still begs him to not let any politicians or the members of her family send her back to London, the movie never gives a feeling about what happened in all these years as the basic situation always remains the same. And this affects Judi Dench’s performance – she does play every scene correctly but you never get the feeling that Queen Victoria is the master of her own life. And considering all the time the movie spent on creating this deep friendship, it again makes a misstep by letting the Queen drop Mr. Brown very quickly again when he demands her to do something she does not want. This might underline the own feeling of superiority in the Queen but the script is too undecided on her character, letting her be pushed around from one emotion to the other without every properly explaining reasons or giving the Queen an inner personality – and not even Judi Dench can overcome these obstacles.

So, I think that is was truly the script that held Judi Dench back from giving an outstanding performance because it kept her within a very limited range and did not allow her to create a three-dimensional human being. But now we come to the parts of her performance that I do appreciate: most of all, even if the script does not suggest a truly royal character at its center, Judi Dench’s performance certainly does. Everything that does succeed about Queen Victoria is due to her work. She inhabits a royal personality down to her toe – the way she eats her food and then stops, naturally expecting everyone else to stop as well, the way she walks around the palace with her ladies in waiting behind her or the way she holds out her hand to receive a letter feel completely authentic at every moment. I also appreciate that Judi Dench did not decide to go the easy route with her character and ‘sweetened her up’ – sure, there are moments when she drops her usually reserved façade to smile at John Brown but she always stays true to the superior character of the Queen. The way she treats her family and her servants always indicates that Queen Victoria knows her rank and her position and won’t ever let anyone forget it – except Mr. Brown. I especially like the scene when Queen Victoria plays the piano and makes her grandchildren sing with her – the whole scene reminds me of a horror movie where the killer invades the house of a family and makes them all act as if everything is as usual. Judi Dench also makes the great decision to never make it seem that the Queen is unaware of the disapproval around here – instead, she simply ignores it, showing that she understands everything she does as the right way and contrary opinions as wrong.

Besides the proper display of royal superiority, Judi Dench also plays the emotional sides of her character well – the script may limit her work but she does work beautifully within these limits. Her grief at the beginning of the movie feels very authentic, her eyes weak from private crying, her face rid of any joy and only a display of hidden pain. Her slow breakdown while she is talking to John Brown is done excellently by Judi Dench as well, just as her quiet plead to make him stay with her and her final scenes when she confesses that she has not always been the loyal friend that he deserved.

So, it’s an overall satisfying performance with many great moments but I just wish that a character with such endless possibilities as Queen Victoria had been given a more demanding and interesting script to really let its leading actress shine.

And a hint to the next performance that will be ranked:


Giuseppe Fadda said...

I've literally no clue about the next performance.

As for Dench, I have not seen her yet but the position is indeed surprising! Great write-up as usual though.

Deiner said...

Love your blog. I personally liked her more than you did, but to each his own. The next performance looks like Anjelica Huston in The Grifters, because of her hair.

Orfeo said...

About the next performance that will be ranked: isn't it Vanessa Redgrave in the final scene from Mary, Queen of Scots?

By the way, even though I don't know you personally, I wanted to say I read your blog since a few years, and it's always a pleasure because of your very precise thoughts and analyzes on every performances you review.

Fritz said...

Thanks all for your comments and your nice words! It's nice to know that there are still Readers out there despite my Long periods of not posting. Also thanks for your Kind words on the Review - it used to take me weeks to write a Review because I was always overthinking every single word and this also caused me to stop writing for so Long because I just didn't want to do this anymore. Now I am just writing down whatever Comes into my head - takes me 1 hour and makes me huch happier! :)

joe burns said...

It's been a while since I've seen her, but I remember being shocked that Bill Connolly dominates the film so much and I agree that he overshadows her unfairly since I was more interested in Dench at the time. I was impressed with her though, that I remembered.

I think Hunt deserved her Oscar very much though.