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‘It’s Become Impossible’: Dame Judi Dench Says She Can No Longer Read Scripts

Photo Credit: Tolga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tolga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images

Dame Judi Dench revealed her struggles with her rapidly deteriorating eyesight in a recent interview on The Graham Norton Show. The 88-year-old British actress said she finds it “impossible” to read scripts, but she won’t let that stop her from acting.

Dench is one of today’s most celebrated British stars

Born on December 9, 1934, in North Yorkshire, England, Dame Judi Dench is one of the most celebrated British actors of this generation. She rose to fame on the stage prior to the screen, starring in several Shakespearean productions. In 1957, she made headlines for her performance as Ophelia in an on-stage production of Hamlet. Dench went on to appear in important Shakespeare productions of classics like Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Judi Dench in costume as Ophelia in a 1957 production of Hamlet
Judi Dench as Ophelia at a dress rehearsal of Hamlet in 1957. (Photo Credit: Bob Haswell / Daily Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Dench made her screen debut in the 1964 crime drama The Third Secret and went on to star in a wide variety of films. Her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 71st Academy Awards. Throughout her 60-year career, Dench has won a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and six British Academy Film Awards – making her just an Emmy away from becoming an EGOT, Hollywood’s most prestigious accomplishment.

Dench isn’t giving up acting, even if reading lines is ‘impossible’

In 2012, Dench revealed she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. This is an eye disease caused by the deterioration of the macula, a part of the retina that controls straight-ahead vision. “In response to the numerous articles in the media concerning my eye condition – macular degeneration – I do not wish for this to be overblown,” Dench said. “This condition is something that thousands and thousands of people all over the world are having to contend with… and it’s something I have learned to cope with and adapt to – and it will not lead to blindness.”

Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love
Judy Dench plays Queen Elizabeth I in the film Shakespeare in Love. (Photo Credit: Miramax / Laurie Sparham / Getty Images)

Over a decade after she announced her diagnosis, Dench told Graham Norton how the disease impacts her acting, saying that reading scripts has become “impossible.” She also said she struggles to remember lines even with her “photographic memory,” and that she needs “to find a machine that not only teaches me my lines but also tells me where they appear on the page. I used to find it very easy to learn lines and remember them. I could do the whole of Twelfth Night right now.”

She doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon

Despite her deteriorating eyesight, Dench says she doesn’t want to retire from acting anytime soon. On an episode of Louis Theroux Interviews in 2022, Dench said she is taking a slight break, explaining, “I’m not doing anything much at the moment because I can’t see.” Dench candidly confessed that her eyesight has deteriorated to a point that she recently had to ask a friend to cut her food for her while eating in a poorly-lit room.

Judi Dench holds a red nose
Dame Judi Dench stars in the Red Nose Day 2021, Funny is Power campaign film, What is it to be Human? in London, England. (Photo Credit: Jacqui Black/Comic Relief/Getty Images)

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Dench isn’t letting anything slow her down, especially her vision. “I’ve got to teach myself a new way of learning,” she told Theroux. “I’ve realized that I need to know where it is on the page. I’ll teach myself a way. I know I will, as long as I don’t trip over doing it.”

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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