Dame Judi Dench – Life, Career & Where She is Now

Dame Judi Dench is a multi Oscar winning actress who’s starred in many theatre, television and cinema productions over the course of her career. From Shakespeare to Bond, she has become a familiar face on our screens and stages portraying a variety of roles and in the process putting her native county of Yorkshire on the centre stage.

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Growing Up

On the 9th of December in 1934, Judith Olivia Dench was born in Heworth, York. She had an English father called Reginald and an Irish mother called Elenora along with two brothers called Peter and Jeffrey.

Judi’s father worked as a GP for the York Theatre Royal while her mother was employed in the costume department. Her early years were spent in and around her parent’s place of work, giving the young girl a taste for acting from a very early age.

Judi Dench pictured with Laurence Olivier, John Neville and Joseph O'Connor in Belgrade int he early 70s. Picture credit: Stevan Kragujevic wikipedia creative commons.
Judi Dench pictured with Laurence Olivier, John Neville and Joseph O’Connor in Belgrade in the early 70’s. Picture credit: Stevan Kragujevic wikipedia creative commons.

First Starring Role

Since being part of the theatre growing up, Judi starred in the newly revived York ‘mystery plays’. These were held at York Museum gardens each year.

In 1957, she landed her first starring role on the fixed stage where she played The Virgin Mary. This performance, along with the extra encouragement from her brother Jeffery, proved to be the catalyst for her acting career.

Education & Debut

Judi decided that acting was the career that she wanted to pursue and as a result chose to further her education. She attended London’s Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art which led Dench to joining the Old Vic Theatre Company.

Her stage debut also came in the same year where she made an instant impact playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Judi stayed with the established theatre group until 1961, touring America and Yugoslavia in the process, and starring as Katherine in another Shakespeare play, Henry V.

Royal Shakespeare Company

Judi Dench joined the Royal Shakespeare Company which is where the young actress made her name in the UK. Her first role with the prestigious group was Anya in “The Cherry Orchard” and then at Stratford Theatre as Isabella in “Measure for Measure”.

TV Debut

Soon Judi decided that she was no longer content with only appearing on the stage, instead she wanted to be on TV. In 1959, she made her TV debut on the BBC’s “Hilda’s Lessways” followed by a big screen debut “The Third Secret” alongside Richard Attenborough.

Judi also starred in another film called “Four in the Morning”. It was this role that earned her the first of many awards including a BAFTA for the most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles.

Cabaret

Two years later, Judi entered the world of musicals when she was given the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” despite her fears about singing in public. Throughout her rehearsals, Judi managed to overcome this and ended up being critically acclaimed during the show’s long run in 1968.

Personal Life

In 1971, Judi Dench married a man called Michael Williams from Liverpool. A year later, the happy couple had a daughter called Finty Williams who followed in her mum’s footsteps and also became an actress. In 2001, Michael died from lung cancer.

Judi later met conservationist David Mills who she’s since been in a relationship with as of 2012. She’s said that she didn’t expect to have another relationship after her husband died and that it grew slowly.

70’s & 80’s

Throughout the seventies, Judi continued to appear in several Shakespeare productions. These were most notably as Lady Macbeth in 1976 and “A Comedy of Errors” the following year which proved her versatility in playing both a strong female role and a more comedic one.

The eighties also brought Judi much success. She starred as the female lead in “Antony and Cleopatra” in 1987 at the National Theatre, and appeared in the 10,000th episode of The Archers radio soap two years later.

James Bond

Despite all of her success in many of the roles she played, Judi Dench was still only widely known in the UK for her theatre and television work.

The role that put her onto the world stage would come in 1995. She was chosen to play the role of “M” in the new James Bond film Goldeneye.

Between her landing the role, there had been a six year hiatus in the spy franchise after Licence to Kill. A raft of new actors and film crew were appointed to produce the next film including a new Bond, Pierce Brosnan.

Judi Dench became the first female to play the head of MI5. She replaced Robert Brown and has continued in this role for every Bond film since until the character’s untimely death in Skyfall (2012).

Shakespeare in Love

In 1998, Judi appeared in the hit historical drama “Shakespeare in Love” in which she played Queen Elizabeth I. Her eight minutes on screen playing the monarch had made such an impact that Judi won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Known Worldwide

Judi Dench was now known across the world. As a result of her winning an Oscar, big screen offers soon followed including “Tea with Mussolini” (1991), “Iris” (2001) and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (2002) which earned her an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA award for best leading actress.

Her reputation for playing a frosty older woman has made her a screen legend. This was underlined in her role as the notoriously cold Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the 2005 screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.

Declining Health

In recent years, a now ageing Dame Judi Dench has continued to act in major film productions despite her failing health. She has a debilitating condition called macular degeneration which is a gradual loss of sight.

As a result, the famous actress has found it hard in more recent years to read her scripts. However, despite this, the condition has not stopped the prolific Judi Dench from winning awards and starring in hit movies.

Other Roles in Film

In the last few years, Judi Dench has appeared with other veteran actors such as Dame Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, in the surprise hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Judi also starred in another popular British film called “Philomena” where she starred alongside Steve Coogan.

In “Philomena”, critics applauded Judi for her acting versatility. She successfully shook off the often typecast previous roles of frosty matriarchal figures to play an ordinary Irish Catholic woman who had her child taken away from her by the convent.

Awards & Acknowledgements

Over the course of her impressive acting career, Dame Judi Dench has received many awards over the years. These include one Oscar, ten BAFTAs, two Laurence Olivier Awards, one Golden Globe, and over fifty nominations across all the major TV and film awards.

In 1970, Judi Dench was also made an OBE. Eighteen years later, she was made a dame.

Along the River Ouse in York, the actress has a path named after her called “The Judi Dench Walk”. This path starts at Lendal Bridge and continues for several miles down the riverbank.

Dame Judi Dench has also become a patron of the York Mystery Plays. These are still held in the same place today, York Museum Gardens, in which she started her career back in the 1950’s.

Where is Dame Judi Dench Now?

Currently, Dame Judi Dench is still at the top of her game. She has since starred in the 2015 sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Artemis Fowl, Off the Rails, and Belfast.

Judi Dench shows no signs of slowing down and continues to work and provide us with some of the greatest film and tv shows. She is one of the best actresses from Yorkshire and has enjoyed an impressive career through many decades.