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and furthermore

By Judi Dench
Weidenfeld and Nicholson £20
268 pages

Dateline: 7th November, 2010

If you were to ask a random group of film and theatre buffs to name their favourite actors, the odds are that the most common answer would be Dame Judi Dench.

In work on stage and screen, in a career that now stretches for over half a century, the great actress has repeatedly proved her skill and versatility and, in doing so, ensured that she is now a household name.

and furthermore could easily have been written specifically for the audio book or radio extract market. It is a book of reminiscences that rarely gets far beneath the surface of a rich life that started in the theatre and, after a few hiccoughs, made it very successfully to both small and large screens.

Judi Dench was one of three children of a York-based doctor and his wife, both of whom had a love of amateur dramatics. Eventually, their offspring split 2-1 in favour of acting over medicine with little Judi clearly far better suited to the stage than the operating room.

Her first big break came early with casting as Ophelia at the Old Vic, at that time in 1957 a kind of cross between today's RSC and the National Theatre.

She didn't look back as, in this book, there are no tales of "resting" with the actress apparently constantly at work, generally happily.

In short chapters with many great photographs, the future Dame talks to John Miller about her career and the famous names with whom she has shared a stage or screen. She clearly has great affection for the likes of John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft but, more particularly, the great love of her life "My Michael", her husband Michael Williams on whom she dotes, right up to his early death in 2001.

While and furthermore can feel rather like a procession through a long and varied life, there will be much to please fans, whether of the stage work or more likely, her performances in films such as Mrs Brown and playing M browbeating James Bond, or opposite Geoffrey Palmer on TV in the long-running sitcom As Time Goes By.

Ultimately, it is possible to build up a picture of Dame Judi Dench but much more by reading between the lines (and she does seem to have a knack of forgetting them on important opening nights) than what is there.

This is a proud, loyal woman with a great sense of humour and strong love of family. She also has an addiction to every form of acting, loving variety in her work to the extent of suggesting that her ideal would be to alternate performances in the theatre with those on TV and film.

One strange fact which emerges is that the legendary actress does not read any script before accepting it. Depending upon one's point of view, this might suggest that she has an innate genius for picking winners or possibly explain why she has appeared in the odd stinker.

As she says in the final chapter, Judi Dench is also a very private woman who does not believe in airing her dirty linen in public. Therefore, while and furthermore is a very pleasant canter across her life, it still leaves space for somebody to write a more detailed and critical biography, although that might be difficult to achieve on an official basis.

Philip Fisher

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©Peter Lathan 2010