Dench recalls her illustrious career in this rather flavorless memoir, tracking her storied performances in a staggering number of classical and contemporary stage works, TV series and films.
The author writes with a restraint that borders on the perverse, eschewing backstage gossip or personal introspection—or really much sentiment at all. She recounts a few mild pranks and standard actors’ complaints about less-than-ideal performance conditions, but most of the narrative just tallies up professional accomplishments, charting Dench’s relatively smooth ascension from respected repertory actress to Academy Award winner. With a few blandly complimentary phrases, she sums up co-stars such as Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, declining to discuss the differing processes of mounting films, TV series and stage shows, or her impressions of the differing performance cultures of Hollywood, Broadway and the English theater. Her English TV series As Time Goes By enjoys a devoted cult in the United States, but she has almost nothing to say about it beyond registering bemusement at the Internet-driven mania of its fan base. Dench was married to actor Michael Williams for nearly three decades and had a daughter with him, but he’s a vague, reassuring presence in the narrative whose death from cancer receives a rather cursory treatment here. The author’s English reserve is admirable, but the brisk manner in which she recounts the presumably central tragedy of her life points up the book’s ultimately off-putting coolness and perfunctory approach to autobiography. It’s more of a list than a story, and indeed the book’s most impressive section is a simple listing of Dench’s acting credits, limning a truly awesome body of work. Bits of her personality do peek through, chiefly a surprising tetchiness (she is not a great fan of journalists) that might have made the book more enjoyable if given free rein.
Great actress, mediocre memoir.