Judi Dench is a British actress, best known for her role as ‘M’ in the 007 James Bond movies. She made her professional theatre debut at the Royal Court Theatre as Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’ produced by the Old Vic Company. She later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in a number of plays including ‘The Cherry Orchard’ at the Aldwych Theatre. She also appeared as Lady Macbeth in a Playhouse Company production. She made her debut on the big screen in the film ‘The Third Secret’ and made her television debut in the BBC serial ‘Hilda Lessways’. In the course of her career she has won over 50 awards with more than 200 nominations which include a Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award, for her role in ‘Shakespeare in Love’. She has been honoured with a number of titles and awards including the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) and fellow of the British Film Institute (BFI). She married British actor Michael Williams and has a daughter named Tara Cressida Frances Williams who is an actress. Well passed 80, she is still actively involved in various philanthropic ventures and is in no mood to retire from her acting career.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born Judith Olivia Dench on December 09, 1934, in Heworth, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, to Eleanora Olive and Reginald Arthur Dench. Her father was a doctor and her mother worked as a wardrobe mistress. Her brother Jeffery Dench grew up to be an actor and was instrumental in making her join the field.
She studied at the all girls Mount School and became a Quaker due to the influence of the school. Her father was the resident doctor for the York theatre that brought her in close contact with a number of actors. She trained to be a designer at York School of Art for awhile but developed an interest in theatre. She thereafter joined the Central School of Speech and Drama where she took part in a number of plays.
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She made her professional theatre debut at the Royal Court Theatre as Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’ in an Old Vic Company production in 1957. She remained with the company for four years and toured the US, Canada and Yugoslavia.
In 1961, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ at the Aldwych Theatre. She played the role of Isabella in Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’ the following year. She also appeared as Lady Macbeth in a Playhouse Company production.
She made her screen debut in the British drama film ‘The Third Secret’ in 1964 followed by a cameo role in the Sherlock Holms movie ‘A Study in Terror’ in 1965. She also made her television debut in the BBC serial ‘Hilda Lessways’ in 1959.
She made her big break with her role in the film ‘Four in the Morning’ for which she was awarded the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles in 1966. This was closely followed by a second BAFTA Television Best Actress Award for her performance in the BBC drama ‘Talking to a Stranger’ in 1968. She also made an appearance in the musical ‘Cabaret’ that year.
She rejoined Royal Shakespeare Company and made several appearances with them for the next 20 years. Her performances include varied roles in tragic play ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, the comedy ‘Trevor Nunn’s’ and musical ‘The Comedy of Errors’.
She appeared in a number of hit movies till she portrayed the character ‘M’ in the James Bond movie ‘Licence to Kill’ in 1989 and ‘Golden Eye’ in 1995. Her stern character that was based on the real life MI5 boss Stella Remington became her trademark. Thereafter, she has consistently appeared in the role.
Besides her role as ‘M’, Dench has appeared in several movies as a strong character. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ that was followed by positive reviews for her roles in ‘Mrs Brown’, ‘Chocolat’ and ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
She has appeared in a number of films that include ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1968), ‘A Room with a View’ (1985), ‘Golden Eye’ (1995), ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998), ‘Die Another Day’ (2002), ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (2005), ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008), ‘Skyfall’ (2012), ‘Murder on the Oriental Express’ (2017) and ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ (2018).
Her discography includes ‘Pericles’ (1968), ‘The Good Companions’ (1974), ‘A Little Night Music’ (1995), ‘Spaceship Earth’ (2008) , and ‘Nine’ (2009).
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Awards & Achievements
During her long career she has won over 50 awards with more than 200 nominations. These include a Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award, for her role in ‘Shakespeare in Love’, Academy of Interactive Arts & Science Award for Outstanding Achievement in Character Performance – Female for ‘Golden Eye: Rogue Agent’, six BAFTA film awards and four BAFTA television awards.
Her other significant awards include two Screen Actors Guild Awards for ‘Chocolat’ and two Golden Globe Awards for ‘Mrs Brown’ and ‘The Last of the Blonde Bombshells’.
She has received 10 honorary awards that include a lifetime achievement Special Olivier Award and BAFTA fellowship.
Judi Dench was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1970, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1988, Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in 2005 and fellow of the British Film Institute (BFI) in 2011.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married British actor Michael Williams in February 1971 after dating him for almost 10 years and had a daughter named Tara Cressida Frances Williams who grew up to be an actress. The couple applied for adoption in order to have a second child, but were turned down. She became a grandmother at the age of 62. She is an animal lover and has owned several pets including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish and a race horse.
Her husband appeared with her in several stage and television productions, till he died of lung cancer in 2001. After her husband died she was not prepared for another relationship, till she started dating conservationist David Mills in 2010.
She is the patron of more than 180 philanthropic ventures related to health, hygiene and eradication of poverty. She also was the president of Mountview Academy of Arts, Questors Theatre and various other institutions that promote fine arts.
She has worked with non-governmental organisations to campaign for the welfare of tribal people in Botswana and Colombo. She is also a patron of the Karuna Trust that supports the cause of Dalits in India.
She is a supporter of the Everton Football Club and became a patron of the soccer team’s charity venture called ‘Everton in the Community’.
As age got the better of her, she started suffering from macular degeneration due to which she has difficulty in reading. She also had to undergo a knee surgery in 2013, from which she recovered satisfactorily. However, she has no plans of retiring and believes that age is only a number.
She received the ‘Academy Award’ in 1999 for a six minute performance as Queen Elizabeth in ‘Shakespeare in Love’, which is the second shortest performance to be awarded an Oscar.
She is the first woman to portray the character ‘M’ in the 007 James Bond series.