FILM TITLE: JUDI DENCH: MY PASSION FOR TREES
PRESENTED BY: JUDI DENCH
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY: HARVEY LILLEY
NATURAL HISTORY PRODUCER: JAMES MANISTY
PRODUCED BY: ATLANTIC PRODUCTIONS FOR BBC
DISTRIBUTED BY: BBC ONE
INITIAL RELEASE: 2017
At a time when the human race appears to be on a suicidal path of ever increasing environmental and natural resource destruction, Britain’s great stage and screen actress Dame Judi Dench’s gem of a documentary on trees seems a viewing imperative.
She begins this fascinating narrative by sharing with the audience that “Ever since I’ve been a little girl, I’ve adored trees.”
This passion is evident throughout the programme, as Judi invites to her six-acre woodland in Surrey, England some of Britain’s top tree experts, who bring to light extraordinary research finds on trees.
“It’s riveting!” Dame Judi frequently exclaims throughout the programme, with obvious excitement and delight.
“I think of my trees as part of my extended family,” she says, pointing to trees that have been planted, or which commemorate, deceased relatives, colleagues or friends.
Over the course of a year, beginning with winter and following the four seasons, tree researchers visit Judi’s estate, bringing with them scientific equipment to unravel some of trees’ mysteries.
During Winter, the head of the tree collection at Kew Gardens Tony Kirkham takes her to a massive U (Yew) Tree, Europe’s most ancient tree worshipped by the Druids and pagans. Its size and age (1500 years old) simply overwhelm.
During Spring, scientist Alex Metcalf shows Judi - and the audience - what is going on under a tree’s bark. Using a simple device put up to the ear, Judi can hear a rumbling sound under the bark, and occasionally a popping sound. “That popping is the sound of water travelling up through the roots as the water goes up to the leaves,” he explains.
In the same season, Oxford University scientist Charlotte Scott introduces a machine that measures a tree’s breathing through its leaves, that is, how much carbon dioxide it is taking in. She is investigating whether a tree can sense if it is under attack.
She reveals the astonishing fact that trees talk to themselves, sending signals from one leaf to another, saying ‘watch out, under attack’.
Even more astonishing - when some trees are overwhelmed by an attack, they can call for help from others. For example, if a tree is under attack from aphids, it sends out a scented cloud which attracts ladybugs on other trees. They come to the tree and feed on the aphids.
During Summer, another scientist makes a virtual model of Judi’s estate. Taking one of her favourite oak trees, he estimates that this one tree has approximately 260,000 leaves, 12 kilometres of branches and weighs approximately 25 tonnes!
And finally in Autumn, even more astounding facts are uncovered about trees’ ability to communicate. In the forests, a type of fungi enables the trees to interact. Fungi not only break down woody matter and turn it into nutrients to enrich the soil, but they also send out threads that envelope the roots of trees. Through these networks, trees can send messages and information underground to one another, and even share food with one another!
“It’s mind-blowing! Judi gushes. “The forest is a very, very social place!”
Interspersed throughout the programme Judi recites Shakespeare sonnets that relate to the forest, pointing out that “It seems Shakespeare knew a thing or two about trees.”
Never again shall we look upon trees as passive plants, just standing there and doing nothing, but rather as communicating, social organisms that take appropriate actions for their, and their neighbours’, survival.
The silence of trees has been broken by this most engrossing discourse, and Dame Judi lays bare the intense emotions and affection that trees have evoked within her, and which indeed can be stirred within others.
Available on YouTube
By Linda Pfotenhauer
© copyright: Linda Pfotenhauer