keep calm and carry on

Judi Dench “Can’t See Much,” but Still Wants to Work “as Much as I Can”

The Oscar winner told The Daily Mirror’s Notebook magazine that though it feels “ghastly” being “so dependent on people” due to her deteriorating eyesight, she has no plans to retire: “You just deal with it.”
Judi Dench.
Judi Dench.By Mike Marsland/ Getty Images. 

At 88 years of age, Dame Judi Dench has no plans to retire from acting just yet—even if her deteriorating eyesight makes it exceedingly difficult to exercise her craft. The Oscar winner told The Daily Mirror’s Notebook magazine as much, saying that it feels “ghastly” to be “so dependent on people” to learn lines. Still, she added, she wants to work “as much as I can.”

Dench was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a degenerative eye condition, in 2012. Earlier this year, Dench shared that in the decade since her diagnosis, it has “become impossible” to learn her lines due to the condition. “I can’t see on a film set any more,” Dench told Notebook. “And I can’t see to read. So I can’t see much. But, you know, you just deal with it. Get on." 

Despite her vision problems, Dench has been able to work steadily in recent years, appearing in films including Blithe Spirit, Cats, and even earning an Oscar nomination as recently as 2022 for best supporting actress for her work in Belfast. (She won in 1999 for playing Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, despite famously having only about eight minutes of screen time in the film.) “It’s difficult for me if I have any length of a part,” Dench told Notebook. “I haven’t yet found a way. Because I have so many friends who will teach me the script. But I have a photographic memory.”

While it’s evident that she has a community of friends and family willing to help her learn lines, Dench still feels it’s “ghastly” to have to rely so much on others. “It’s the most terrible shock to the system,” Dench said, of losing her eyesight. “It’s terrible to be so dependent on people.” Nevertheless, Dench, who received the IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this month, told the publication that she still intends to work “as much as I can.” 

Luckily for us, Dench added, she has an “irrational fear of boredom,” and even got a tattoo that says “carpe diem,” or seize the day, on her wrist at the tender age of 81—proving that she’s got plenty more to give. “That’s why I now have this tattoo that says ‘carpe diem,’” said Dench. “That’s what we should live by.”