The Real King of the Nerds: Battles of the Dames (Smith vs. Dench)


by Angela Dahl (@AngelaDahling)

Living legends and BFFs Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judy Dench are some formidable dames of British cinema. One stare from either of them is enough to turn you to stone, but a one-liner delivered by either of them is enough to put you in stitches. Both have become icons in nerdom playing Professor McGonagall and M, but which dame’s got the most game?


Maggie Smith, born Margaret Natalie Smith, first met Judi Dench in 1958 when they shared a dressing room at the Old Vic. This was the same year Smith won a BAFTA award for Best Newcomer. Eleven years later, she won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She’s appeared in numerous period pieces, including her current role as the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey. As a staple actress of period films, she’s obviously worn some very old pieces of clothing from the original time periods; however, this is not as glamorous as it seems. She disclosed in an interview that she’s worn the same blouse in at least three different period movies and was getting rather tired of it. These are the sacrifices she makes for us Muggles. She began her iconic Harry Potter role as Professor Minerva McGonagall in 2001, where children worldwide, even now, are convinced that if they see her on the street she will turn into a cat.

Maggie Smith Proof of BAMFery: She was going through intensive treatment for breast cancer while filming Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and through the filming of The Deathly Hallows. Also during Deathly Hallows, she suffered through shingles ON TOP OF CANCER, and there are pictures of her on set in a wheelchair. She carried on, however, and has since said “Expelliarmus” to cancer, as she is reported to have made a full recovery.

Judi Dench, or “Jude” as Maggie Smith calls her (I’m telling you, BFFs), began her career doing Shakespearean roles such as Ophelia, Juliet, and Lady Macbeth. She actually played opposite Ian McKellen’s Macbeth in 1979. People don’t normally associate her with musicals, but she starred in Cabaret in the late sixties to positive reviews. In 1995, she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Other period movies she’s done are A Room with a View (with Maggie Smith!), The Importance of Being Earnest, and Pride & Prejudice. She began her role as M in 1995 and is the only character to appear both in Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig 007 films.


Judi Dench Proof of BAMFery: In a 2005 interview with Premier magazine, Matthew Macfadyen, who played Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, painted a surprising picture of his co-star. On set she makes ornate needlework embroideries, which one would expect from someone like Judi Dench, but they say extraordinarily profane phrases like “You Are a C–t,” and she gives them away as presents. This is not the first reporting of these embroideries. Aware of the critics’ reaction to the play Amy’s View she did in 1999, she apparently gave the author of the play an embroidered cushion that said “F–k ’em, f–k ’em, f–k ’em, f–k ’em.”

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench were born months apart. They’ve both played queens. They’re both Dame Commanders of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and BAMFs. Which queen is the queen of your heart and of the nerds?

    One Comment

  1. Will DwinnellApril 11th, 2013 at 6:40 am

    I can never chose in most of these “Which is better, A or B?” contests. When asked “Which is better, ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’?”, I always say ‘Iron Man’: “Is it too much to ask for both?”

    Both of the named performers have delivered magnificently any number of times, and I think it’s worth applauding the idea that female characters in science fiction / fantasy / escapism do not have to fall in the “young hottie” category. I’d add to this list characters such as Aunty Entity in “Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome” and Nina Sharp in “Fringe”. Well done, ladies.

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