Stephen Frears’ new film Victoria and Abdul premiered at the Venice Film Festivals and the reviews – including ours – were mixed. The film features a powerful performance by Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, which comes as no surprise given how consistent Dench is, but the story suffers from a misguided tone and a miscast co-lead that drags the film into a caricature version instead of a grounded, relatable and deep portrayal of a queen in crisis.
Shortly after the premiere, many critics were quick to praise Dench’s charismatic and powerhouse performance but many had their issues with the film which is her vehicle in the 2018 Best Actress Oscar race. So will Dench score her 8th Oscar nomination?
Nothing is any certain until the names are announced on Oscar nomination morning – but at the moment there’s a case to be made for and against Dench:
The Case for Dench:
- Her Oscar history: Dench is one of the most beloved Oscar darlings. She is highly regarded as one of the most important actresses alive and with staggering 7 nominations and 1 Oscar win, she is one of the most nominated actresses in Oscar history. Typically, AMPAS favors the talent they’ve nominated before – though the Best Actress category especially tends to be open to a new it-girl every year – and with Dench’s stellar resume, this screener will not go unnoticed come Oscar time.
- Her type of role: AMPAS loves period dramas with minimal special effects, straight-forward stories and lavish costumes. The film is set in the 1880s and has all the typical AMPAS fare that led even Dench herself to win previously for Shakespeare in Love. As last year’s Oscar race showed us, a more actor-branch friendly role, as Ruth Negga’s Loving, may have an advantage over sic-fi films such as Arrival.
- Her narrative: Dench is 83 years old and her vision is deteriorating. While it hasn’t been announced officially, Victoria and Abdul may be one of her final films. Perhaps the Daniel Day Lewis effect will be also in play in the Actress category.
- Her studio: Focus Features, who led Ruth Negga last year to a shocking Actress nom over presumed favorite Amy Adams, know very well how to play the Oscar game. They will pull the stops to make sure Dench is in the conversation.
- Her Oscar clips: Oscar clips are typically important to secure a nom. It’s what sticks to voters’ minds when they fill in their ballots. In Victoria and Abdul, Dench has 2 Oscar clips: one at the beginning of the film where she speaks with Abdul on her misery as the most powerful woman on the continent. In one of her final scenes, she confronts her son and defends her friendship with Abdul. It’s a killer scene that will be remembered as her final line: ‘I’m anything but insane’.
- Her Campaign: Dench typically doesn’t campaign for her films – but it looks like she will this time
- Her Precursors: A Golden Globe and BAFTA nod for Dench seem very likely – SAG could also bite but that depends on the field. A GG + BAFTA combo is a strong one and Dench can go all the way if she scores 2 or 3 (with SAG).
The Case against Dench:
- The competition: After a very strong 2016 Best Actress Oscar race – one that left out heavyweights such as Bening, Adams and others – this 2017 race is no weaker. Dench’s path for a nomination will not be a cakewalk – she will have to face Winslet, McDormand, Hawkins, Vega, Lawrence, Stone and others. Sometimes it’s not about the nominee but who they’re competing with. (See Amy Adams last year and Amy Adams in Big Eyes). Could this be Dench’s Big Eyes?
- The film: Many lone Actress nominees have happened in the past years without their films scoring any major noms (see: Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl etc). But in general, the more liked your film is, the better chance you stand especially in a crowded field. And it will be this year.
- No one gets nominated all the time: Even Oscar darlings, Blanchett, Streep, Winslet and others missed on some films. The fact that Dench got for films like Philomena most recently does not mean an automatic Oscar nod.
At the moment, and given the above factors, we’ll give Dench a 65% chance for a nomination. It’s true her supporting factors currently outweigh her detracting ones – and she’s quite sublime and deserving of the nod, but let’s see how TIFF shakes out.