Twenty years ago, Judi Dench earned her first Oscar nomination for her heartfelt portrayal of Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown.” Despite winning the Golden Globe and BAFTA, she lost at the Academy Awards to Helen Hunt for the comedy-drama “As Good As It Gets.” Dame Judi returns to the role in “Victoria and Abdul,” which just premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Backed by rave reviews for her performance, this British national treasure could finally win that elusive Best Actress Oscar.
Dench did win the supporting actress Oscar in 1998 for her brief turn as Elizabeth I in the Best Picture champ “Shakespeare in Love.” Since then, she has reaped five more Oscar bids, including four for Best Actress. Two of those — “Mrs. Henderson Presents” (2005) and “Philomena” (2015) — were for films directed by Stephen Frears who oversaw “Victoria and Abdul.”
“Mrs. Brown” told the moving story of the widowed Queen’s friendship with Scotsman John Brown soon after her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861. This new film, set in 1887, chronicles the relationship between the monarch, who is celebrating her golden jubilee, and her new Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Over the ensuing years, he becomes one of Victoria’s most trusted confidantes, which is a cause for concern among the royal courtiers.
Dench, who has won five of her record 14 BAFTA nominations, is certainly the frontrunner at these precursor prizes. Indeed, the British academy has adored Dench for decades, naming her most promising newcomer back in 1966 for her starring role in “Four in the Morning.” Besides “Mrs. Brown,” she also won BAFTAs for her leading role in 2001’s “Iris” and featured turns in “A Room With a View” (1985), “A Handful of Dust” (1988) and “Shakespeare in Love.”
Since the BAFTAs were moved up in 2000 to take place before the Oscars, these kudos have foreseen 12 of the 17 Best Actress Oscar winners. The awards savvy Focus Features is handling distribution for “Victoria and Abdul” stateside and the film will be released ahead of many other contenders on Sept. 22. This serves two purposes: getting attention for this low-key charmer before the onslaught of other awards fare and allowing the studio to time a second push for the picture during its DVD release, which may well be during Oscar nominations voting in January.
Do you think Dench will win this year? Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.