When Judi Dench Met Sybil Thorndike

Sybil Thorndike (at centre) with Marilyn in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’

Judi Dench, who plays another dame – Sybil Thorndike – in My Week With Marilyn, told the Radio Times of her own meeting the revered actress in 1958:

‘Her latest role sees her portraying august actress Dame Sybil Thorndike in My Week with Marilyn, which tells the story of the making of The Prince and the Showgirl, the 1957 movie in which Laurence Olivier directed and co-starred opposite Marilyn Monroe. The production was plagued with problems, with Olivier and Monroe at loggerheads throughout. “Marilyn wasn’t an easy person to cope with – certainly not for Sir Laurence – but Dame Sybil felt genuine sympathy for her and stood up for her,” says Dench. “I know that to be true.”

Dench recalls meeting Dame Sybil several times. The first was in 1958, when Dench, in one of her first roles after leaving London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, was in Romeo and Juliet at the Old Vic. “She came round to see us afterwards and was so charming. We were young actors and she was lovely to us and strongly encouraging and gentle.” Which is exactly how she comes across in My Week with Marilyn. “I think they got very, very close to how Dame Sybil was in the script,” continues Dench, who also praises Michelle Williams for her role of Monroe: “She is just wonderful,” she coos. “She has that same fragile quality.” ‘

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