9 December 1934
Dame Judith Olivia "Judi" Dench, CH, DBE, FRSA is an English film, stage and television actress. She made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Company. Over the following few years she played in several of William Shakespeare’s plays in such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. She branched into film work, and won a BAFTA Award as Most Promising Newcomer; however, most of her work during this period was in theatre. Not generally known as a singer, she drew strong reviews for her leading role in the musical Cabaret in 1968.
During the next two decades, she established herself as one of the most significant British theatre performers, working for the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. In television, she achieved success during this period, in the series A Fine Romance from 1981 until 1984 and in 1992 began a continuing role in the television romantic comedy series As Time Goes By.
Her film appearances were infrequent until she was cast as M in GoldenEye (1995), a role she has played in each James Bond film since. She received several notable film awards for her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown (1997), and has since been acclaimed for her work in such films as Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chocolat (2000), Iris (2001), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) and Notes on a Scandal (2006), and the television production The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2001).
Judi has received many award nominations for her acting in theatre, film and television; her awards include ten BAFTAs, seven Laurence Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award. In June 2011, she received a fellowship from the British Film Institute (BFI).
She was born in Heworth, York, England, Judi attended The Mount School, a Quaker Independent Secondary school in York, and became a Quaker. Her brothers, one of whom is actor Jeffery Dench, were born in Tyldesley, Lancashire.
Through her parents, Judi had regular contact with the theatre. Her father, a physician, was also the GP for the York Theatre, and her mother was its wardrobe mistress. Actors often stayed in the Dench household. During these years, Judi was involved on a non-professional basis in the first three productions of the modern revival of the York Mystery Plays in the 1950s. Though she initially trained as a set designer, she became interested in drama school as her brother Jeff attended the Central School of Speech and Drama. She applied and was accepted, where she was a classmate of Vanessa Redgrave, graduating with a first class degree in drama and four acting prizes, one being the Gold Medal as Outstanding Student.
She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in December 1961 playing Anya in The Cherry Orchard at the Aldwych Theatre in London, and made her Stratford-upon-Avon debut in April 1962 as Isabella in Measure for Measure.
In 1971, Judi married British actor Michael Williams and they had their only child, Tara Cressida Frances Williams, known professionally as Finty Williams, on 24 September 1972. Judi and her husband starred together in several stage productions, and the Bob Larbey British television sitcom, A Fine Romance (1981–84). Michael Williams died from lung cancer in 2001, aged 65.
In 1995, she took over the role of M (James Bond’s boss) with the James Bond film series, starting with GoldenEye replacing Robert Brown. She has appeared in six James Bond films, including Casino Royale (2006) and its direct sequel Quantum of Solace (2008), making her the longest-running current cast member of the series. She is currently filming her seventh Bond film, Skyfall, to be released in 2012.
She has won multiple awards for performances on the London stage, including a record six Laurence Olivier Awards. She also won the Tony Award for her 1999 Broadway performance in the role of Esme Allen in David Hare’s Amy’s View. She has taken on the role of Director for a number of stage productions.
She is interested in horse racing and in partnership with her chauffeur Bryan Agar owns a four-year-old horse, "Smokey Oakey", who won the 2008 Brigadier Gerard Stakes.
Judi was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1970 and promoted to Dame Commander of the order in 1988. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2005. In June 2011, she became a fellow of the British Film Institute (BFI).
She has worked with the non-governmental indigenous organisation, Survival International, campaigning in the defence of the tribal people, the Bushmen of Botswana and the Arhuaco of Colombia. She made a small supporting video saying the Bushmen are victims of tyranny, greed and racism.