Prize Fighter: Oscar buzz for older actresses Field, Mirren, Dench reflect importance of female storytelling

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Image Credit: Ishika Mohan

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Dench, as retiree and widow Evelyn Greenslade in the coming-of-age-when-older The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, hashes out a new beginning along with six other retired Brits who plunk down at a hotel in India advertised as a lower budget retirement community.

She’s vulnerable yet quietly tough in the role, dealing with finding her first job, then finally landing one training Indian telemarketers as a sort of cultural liaison (she’s broke due to her deceased husband’s debts). Dench is a master at transforming herself and she’s also a gorgeous woman, regardless of age.

The movie’s 63-year-old director John Madden, who also helmed Shakespeare in Love, was drawn to doing Exotic Marigold to showcase the lives of older people, especially women, who change as their families shift and spouses die. “I was interested in this film because it seemed to take as its subject old age, people moving to that point where they get placed in a ghetto psychologically speaking,” he told EW. “There’s a tendency to be ignored in our culture. This film was an opportunity to deal with this subject. It’s essentially a comedy, where their age doesn’t matter.”

So when it comes to Dench’s character, reinvention is necessary. That, or surrendering to loss and financial troubles, which she refuses to do.

“The industry has woken up to the fact that there’ s a huge audience out there that want to see their experiences reflected in the story,” Madden said. “It’s like the Rolling Stones, in a different way. Old age is a little bit different now. People are living longer and working longer. This year in particular, there are a number of films dealing with this issue, and specifically, aging. You’re never aware of being a movement.”

Madden describes the romantic world of older women explored in Exotic Marigold and other Oscar-buzz movies as “a step forward for everyone.” Sex, love, lust, attraction are feelings – emotional, physical – that belong to everyone, from 25-year-olds with reality-TV bodies to baby boomers who may still be photographed in their bikinis (we’re looking at you, Helen Mirren!). Oscar voters and aging film lovers take note.

“When you’re a bit older, there are more layers to you as an actor, and a human being,” said Andreen, citing Ruth Gordon, who played the 79-year-old lover of a much younger man in 1971’s Harold and Maude. “That was a role for a more seasoned character actress that still stands up today.”


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