There are a lot of Disney movies coming out next year, but the one that people aren't talking about yet is the big screen adaptation of the classic book series Artemis Fowl. This movie has been in development hell since 2001 and is finally getting released next year after moving from Miramax to Disney. Today, we get a first look at one of the main characters in the story; one Commander Root as played by Judi Dench. Director Kenneth Branagh spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the first time he saw Dench in character.m
"When we started to rehearse, she leant forward, and her shoulders stooped and her voice dropped, and then suddenly this gravelly, Churchillian, curmudgeonly figure started to emerge," Branagh says.
Dench is a legend so it's not surprising that she can really command a room. You don't get named a "dame" without some swagger and Dench had plenty in her green costume pictured above.
"I saw all of those actors suddenly, naturally go to attention when they saw Judi, who had this swagger and this cool, who had this great leather coat, who carried the authority quite so effortlessly," says Branagh of the scene, which included 400 to 500 extras. "She walked out of the craft, looked up at the house, and said [in an Irish accent], 'Top of the mornin'.' It was a real sense of a memorable character walking into a movie and owning it, saying 'I love my clothes, I love my look, I'm in charge, and I'm here to make mischief.'"
Dench is an example of another gender-flipped role to bring a story more in line with the current climate. While the book series isn't exactly ancient history, it was published in 2001, a lot has changed in those intervening years. That meant some changes to the story needed to be made and, with the blessing of author Eoin Colfer. Dench was cast as a character that was written as a man in the books.
"Eoin Colfer was always very much involved with the development of these scripts, and he's a man who writes and lives right in the here and now, and I think he was very aware that larger conversations about societal roles have moved on from the time when he wrote this first novel where Holly as a lone woman in a man's world was an important part of the story," says Branagh. "Here, a sense of identity, a sense of what her father did, her place in Haven City, her place in LEPrecon is as important as her gender identification."
That means that one of the primary subplots involving Root's relationship with Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) is going to be different though not enough that it's going to turn off fans of the books.
"We have tensions and passions inside her relationship with her fellow officers and with Root, but they're also to do with her achieving her work on merit," says Branagh. "It felt as though what we needed, whoever was the force, the personality, the intelligence, the kind of commanding disciplinarian figure to be someone against whom Holly could really react and interact with, who represented a sort of benign authority, and who, to some extent, was partly on her side, was partly her sponsor, was partly her mentor, and in a way sort of a role model. So the tensions between them, which come from the book, exist here but they're in a different kind of form, and they can be as complicated as they are in the here and now in our own world. It felt like conversations like that had moved on."
If there was a huge unknown quantity for Disney next year this movie would be it. It's either going to work like gangbusters or completely fall apart. However, even if it was a hot mess, with Branagh steering the ship and actors like Dench running around it should be entertaining if nothing else.
Summary: Artemis Fowl II, a young Irish criminal mastermind, kidnaps the fairy LEPrecon officer Holly Short for ransom to fund the search for his missing father in order to restore the family fortune.
Artemis Fowl, directed by Kenneth Branagh, stars Ferdia Shaw, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell, Judi Dench, and Hong Chau. It will be released on August 9, 2019.