One of Britain's most respected and popular actresses, Judi Dench can claim a decades-old career encompassing the stage, screen, and television. A five-time winner of the British Academy Award, she was granted an Order of the British Empire in 1970 and made a Dame of the British Empire in 1988.
Born in York, England, on December 9, 1934, Dench made her stage debut as a snail in a junior school production. After attending art school, she studied acting at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. In 1957, she made her professional stage debut as Ophelia in the Old Vic's Liverpool production of Hamlet. A prolific stage career followed, with seasons spent performing with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Dench broke into film in 1964 with a supporting role in The Third Secret. The following year, she won her first BAFTA, a Most Promising Newcomer honor for her work in Four in the Morning. Although she continued to work in film, Dench earned most of her recognition and acclaim for her stage work. Occasionally, she brought her stage roles to the screen in such film adaptations as A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968) and Macbeth (1978), in which she was Lady Macbeth to Ian McKellen's tormented king. It was not until the mid-'80s that Dench began to make her name known to an international film audience. In 1986, she had a memorable turn as a meddlesome romance author in A Room with a View, earning a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for her tart portrayal. Two years later, she won the same award for her work in another period drama, A Handful of Dust.
After her supporting role as Mistress Quickly in Kenneth Branagh's acclaimed 1989 adaptation of Henry V, Dench exchanged the past for the present with her thoroughly modern role as M in GoldenEye (1995), the first of the Pierce Brosnan series of James Bond films. She portrayed the character for the subsequent Brosnan 007 films, lending flinty elegance to what had traditionally been a male role. The part of M had the advantage of introducing Dench to an audience unfamiliar with her work, and in 1997 she earned further international recognition, as well as an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe award, for her portrayal of Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown.
While her screen career had taken on an increasingly high-profile nature, Dench continued to act on both television and the stage. In the former medium, she endeared herself to viewers with her work in such series as A Fine Romance (in which she starred opposite real-life husband Michael Williams) and As Time Goes By. On the stage, Dench made history in 1996, becoming the first performer to win two Olivier Awards for two different roles in the same year. In 1998, Dench won an Oscar, garnering Best Supporting Actress honors for her eight-minute appearance as Queen Elizabeth in the acclaimed Shakespeare in Love. Her win resulted in the kind of media adulation usually afforded to actresses one-third her age. Dench continued to reap both acclaim and new fans with her work in Tea with Mussolini and another Bond film, The World is Not Enough. For her role as a talented British writer struggling with Alzheimer's disease in Iris (2001), Dench earned her third Oscar nomination. Sadly, that same year Dench's husband died of lung cancer at the age of 66.
The prophetic artist continued to act in several films a year, wowing audiences with contemporary dramas like 2001's The Shipping News and period pieces like 2002's Oscar Wilde comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. She reprised the role of M again that same year for Brosnan's last Bond film Die Another Day, before appearing in projects in 2004 and 2005 such as The Chronicles of Riddick, Pride & Prejudice, and an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated performance as a wealthy widow who shocks 1930s audiences by backing a burlesque show in Mrs. Henderson Presents. In 2006, she followed the Bond franchise into a new era, maintaining her hold on the role of M as Brosnan retired from playing the title character and Daniel Craig took over. Casino Royale was the first Bond movie to be based on an original Ian Fleming 007 novel in 30 years, and it was a great success. In 2008, Dench rejoined the Bond franchise for Quantum of Solace.
Dench shared the screen with Cate Blanchett for the critical smash Notes on a Scandal (2006). The film's emotional themes ran the gamut from possession and desire to loathing and disgust, and Dench rose to the challenge with her usual strength and grace, earning her a sixth Oscar nomination and seventh Golden Globe nomination.
Dench joined the cast of 2011’s Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, as well as taking on the pivotal role of Mrs. Fairfax in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre. The actress also joined Leonardo DiCaprio to play the intimidating mother of J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar (2011). In 2012, Dench starred alongside fellow film great Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a compassionate comedy-drama following a group of senior citizens’ experience with a unique retirement program in India. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi