Should Judi Dench keep her 'Shakespeare in Love' Oscar?

Judidenchoscar_lJudi Dench’s roughly eight minute performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love was not the briefest to ever win an Academy Award; that record is still held by Beatrice Straight at six minutes for 1976’s Network. But it’s still pretty friggin’ short — and pretty friggin’ memorable. Dench’s droll, deftly understated take on the monarch sets much of the film’s plot in motion, gives its theatrical climax a pungent grace note, and steals every square inch of the screen for every precious second she’s on it. And yet, when Dame Judi collected her Oscar for the performance, even she felt obliged to note, while regarding her statue, "I feel for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him."

Should she have gotten any of him? We’ve been looking back at all the major Oscar categories from 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years ago and asking just that question in our Recall the Gold survey of the entertainment industry. For a decade, the performances of these five best supporting actress nominees — including Kathy Bates (Primary Colors), Brenda Blethyn (Little Voice), Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie), and Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters) — have percolated in the popular culture, and now we want to know if you, PopWatchers, think Dench’s still rates as the most Oscar-worthy.

Ten years ago, her win wasn’t a sure thing. Redgrave had won the Golden Globe for her role as the hilariously no-nonsense maid to Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale (fellow nominee Ian McKellan). Bates had taken home the Screen Actors Guild award for her role as a hilariously take-no-prisoners political operative. Both were far more traditional supporting performances (i.e. they we’re a fair shade longer than eight minutes). Bates’ movie, however, was otherwise seen as a disappointment, and it was released way back in March 1998 — rarely an Oscar-friendly month. As for Redgrave, perhaps some voters thought Gods and Monsters should be recognized by McKellan’s performance instead (er, whoops), or by screenwriter Bill Condon’s win for best adapted screenplay.

Blethyn and Griffiths were caught in a different bind: They arguably gave lead performances against a fellow actress with a far showier role. Blethyn tore into the chance to play an oft-sozzled stage mom to Jane Horrocks’ meek title character; the movie, however, was specifically created to show off Horrocks’ jaw-dropping impersonations of legendary Hollywood singers (Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland), and Blethyn’s over-the-top scenery chewing may have turned off voters besides. (The film, alas, has also lived up to its title: I can’t even find the trailer on the Web.) Meanwhile, much of Hilary and Jackie, a biopic about sisters and musical rivals Hilary and Jacqueline du Pré, is told from Griffiths’ perspective as the older, more ordinary sister Hilary…who is overshadowed by her brilliant, egomaniacal younger sister Jackie, played by (ahem) Best Actress nominee Emily Watson. Though the Griffiths stunning work in the film launched quite the healthy career (HBO’s Six Feet Under, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters), she was, at the time, the designated "now who is she again?" nominee.

So, PopWatchers, is there still, in the inimitable words of presenter Robin Williams, nothing like a Dame? Or should another actress have be anointed with Oscar gold? Vote in our poll below; if you need a reminder of the performances, check out the clips after the jump. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the 1993 Best Picture race; also, check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.


addCredit(“Steve Granitz/”)

Judi Dench’s Oscar victory for Shakespeare in Love, with short excerpts of all five nominated performances (Robin Williams’ japery ends at the 1:20 mark)

Kathy Bates, Primary Colors

Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

Rachel Griffiths, Hilary and Jackie

Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters (Redgrave’s scenes start at 4:05 mark)

Comments (38 total) Add your comment
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  • Snarf

    I always thought it was either Dench or Redgrave in the race that year.

  • dame

    I didn’t think there was anything like a sure thing that year in this category. I did think to myself, “if Dame Judi can win for this brief performance like the way Juliette Binoche did the shocker over Lauren Bacall, then Shakespeare in Love just might take home Best Picture”. This turned out to be, for me, a key to unlocking the surprise of the win.
    I did enjoy Dame Judi very much and would nominate her since she is so memorable even so briefly, but nothing beats Kathy Bates’s barnstorming go-for-broke work that year.

  • Callie

    Couldn’t have gone wrong with any of these ladies, honestly. Lynn Redgrave was wonderful. Brenda Blethyn was wonderful. But I’ve got no problem with Dame Judi hanging onto her Oscar. :)

  • t.g. pierson

    Let her keep it. She was mesmerizing in those eight minutes. Besides 1998’s true best supporting actress, Joan Allen in Pleasantville wasn’t nominated, so I say Dench deserved it.

  • BenG

    There are only a handful of actresses that I could watch reading a phone book and still be engaged and enthralled: Judi Dench, Kate Winslett, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, to name but a few. As is often true of the Oscars, this award was long overdue for the Dame. Although she only held the screen for the briefest of moments, she rocked it like no other. I really disliked the film but she was the one shining light. A truly deserved award not only for this work but for her entire canon of work leading up to this triumph.

  • Kurt

    Let the Dame keep the Oscar. In those brief moments, she was an amazingly strong part of the film; you felt her hanging over everything. Any one of the others could have also won, although I am partial to Kathy Bates in “Primary Colors” (because I won a bet when she was nominated). Would love to break down the Beatrice Strait Oscar and her competition, but, of course, in these parts, we can’t discuss things that happened before EW existed.

  • kim in kentucky

    This is one of those where I would have loved to have had a 5 way race – all the women were wonderful! And let’s face it, as much as I love Dame Judi, she got it because she was robbed the year before by Helen Hunt (who I still say shouldn’t have even been nominated, let alone have won!)

  • Michael C

    This post needed some better copy editing. There have been many grammatical inaccuracies and inconsistencies lately on’s blogs, and it’s kind of upsetting.

  • Kim

    Redgrave or Griffiths. Dench was hilarious, but it’s not far off from other things she’s done and was such a blip. I don’t feel like cameos should be nominated (cough, cough, Tom Cruise’s GG nom this year).

  • Jonathan F.

    No matter how good she is as the Queen, I don’t think it’s right. There should be some kind of time requirement to be considered “supporting”. Eight minutes is a pretty week support.

  • Jay

    Judi Dench deserved it. She was fearless in that role.

  • Jonathan F.

    No matter how good she is as the Queen, I don’t think it’s right. There should be some kind of time requirement to be considered “supporting”. Eight minutes is a pretty weak support.

  • Jay

    Dench was fearless in that role, she deserves it.

  • fancypants

    Judi Dench needs an Oscar, cuz she’s JudiFreakin’Dench. also, the competition against her was weak that year, so I say, she deserves it.

  • fancypants

    also, i know popwatch is going with the whole 5,10,15,20, 25 years ago timeline, but couldn’t they just, in the near future, pick out some random years w/ truly debatable wins? i’d love to read posts concerning julia’s 2000 win over ellen burstyn or reese’s win in 2005 or ordinary people winning over raging bull in 1980. come on EW!

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