Dame Judith Olivia Dench, CH, DBE, FRSA born 9 December 1934, is an English actress. Dench made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Company. Over the following few years, she performed in several of Shakespeare’s plays, in such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. Although most of her work during this period was in theatre, she also branched into film work and won a BAFTA Award as Most Promising Newcomer. She drew strong reviews for her leading role in the musical Cabaret in 1968.
Over the next two decades, Dench established herself as one of the most significant British theatre performers, working for the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She received critical praise in television during this period, in the series A Fine Romance from 1981 until 1984, and from 1992 to 2005 with a starring role in the romantic comedy series As Time Goes By. Her film appearances were infrequent, and included supporting roles in major films, such as A Room with a View (1986), before she rose to international fame as M in GoldenEye (1995), a role she continued to play in James Bond films until Spectre (2015).
A seven-time Oscar nominee, Dench won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love, and has received nominations for her roles in Mrs Brown (1997), Chocolat (2000), Iris (2001), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006), and Philomena (2013). She has also received many other accolades for her acting in theatre, film, and television; her other competitive awards include six British Academy Film Awards, four BAFTA TV Awards, seven Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and a Tony Award. She has also received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2001, and the Special Olivier Award in 2004. In June 2011, she received a fellowship from the British Film Institute (BFI). Dench is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).
In 2015, Dench appeared opposite Dustin Hoffman in Dearbhla Walsh’s small screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Esio Trot (1990), in which a retired bachelor falls in love with his widowed neighbour, played by Dench, who keeps a tortoise as a companion after the death of her husband, First broadcast on BBC One on New Year’s Day 2015, it became one of the most-watched programmes of the week, and earned Dench her first Best Actress nomination at the 2016 International Emmy Awards. On her performance, Telegraph’s Michael Hogan commented: “We’ve grown accustomed to seeing Dench in forbidding roles, but here, she recalled her footloose, flirtatious side, displayed in sitcoms as A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By. The Dame was sparkly and downright ravishing.”
As with most of the original cast, Dench reprised the role of Evelyn in John Madden’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), the sequel to the 2011 sleeper hit. The comedy-drama was released to lukewarm reviews from critics, who found it “as original as its title – but with a cast this talented and effortlessly charming, that hardly matters”. From April to May 2015, Dench played a mother, with her real-life daughter Finty Williams playing her character’s daughter, in The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse. The final performance was broadcast live on More4 at 8:25 pm; the time when the events in the play take place. The appearance marked her first performance at the theatre since 1976. On 20 September 2015, she was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs for the third time, in which she revealed that her first acting performance was as a snail. She reprised her role as M in the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre, in the form of a recording that was delivered to Bond.
On 5 February 1971, Dench married British actor Michael Williams. They had their only child, Tara Cressida Frances Williams, an actress known professionally as Finty Williams, on 24 September 1972. Dench and her husband starred together in several stage productions and on the Bob Larbey British television sitcom, A Fine Romance (1981–84). Michael Williams died from lung cancer in 2001, aged 65. They have one grandchild, Finty’s son Sam Williams (born in 1997).
Dench has been in a relationship with conservationist David Mills since 2010. During a 2014 interview with The Times magazine, she discussed how she never expected to find love again after her husband’s death, “I wasn’t even prepared to be ready for it. It was very, very gradual and grown up It’s just wonderful.”
In early 2012, Dench discussed her macular degeneration, with one eye “dry” and the other “wet”, for which she has been treated with injections into the eye. She said that she needs someone to read scripts to her. She also underwent knee surgery in 2013, but stated that she recovered from the procedure well, and: “It’s not an issue for me.”
Dench has been critical of prejudice in the movie industry against older actresses. She stated in 2014, “I’m tired of being told I’m too old to try something. I should be able to decide for myself if I can’t do things and not have someone tell me I’ll forget my lines or I’ll trip and fall on the set”; and “Age is a number. It’s something imposed on you … It drives me absolutely spare when people say, ‘Are you going to retire? Isn’t it time you put your feet up?’ Or tell me my age.”
In 2013, she spoke about her personal religious faith. Dench, a Quaker, said, “I think it informs everything I do … I couldn’t be without it.”
Dench was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1970 Birthday Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1988 New Year Honours. She was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2005 Birthday Honours. In June 2011, she became a fellow of the British Film Institute (BFI).
In a biography by John Miller it was noted that in the late 1990s Dench was the patron of over 180 charities, many of which were related either to the theatre or to medical causes, for example York Against Cancer. Dench is a patron of the Leaveners, Friends School Saffron Walden, The Archway Theatre, Horley, Surrey and OnePlusOne Marriage and Partnership Research, London. She became president of Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London in 2006, taking over from Sir John Mills, and is president of Questors Theatre, Ealing. In May 2006, she became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). She was also patron of Ovingdean Hall School, a special day and boarding school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Brighton, which closed in 2010, and Vice President of The Little Foundation. Dame Judi is also a long-standing and active Vice President of the national disabled people’s charity Revitalise.
Dench is an Honorary Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. In 1996, she was awarded a DUniv degree from Surrey University and in 2000–2001, she received an honorary DLitt degree from Durham University. On 24 June 2008, she was honoured by the University of St Andrews, receiving an honorary DLitt degree at the university’s graduation ceremony. On 26 June 2013, she was honoured by the University of Stirling, receiving an honorary doctorate at the university’s graduation ceremony in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Arts, particularly to film.
In March 2013, Dench was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by The Guardian. One of the highest-profile actresses in British popular culture, Dench appeared on Debrett’s 2017 list of the most influential people in the UK.