if single handedly setting out to prove that actresses aren't necessarily
finished when they reach ‘a certain age’, Dame Judi Dench
has achieved her greatest fame and loudest plaudits while in her mid-sixties.
Formerly known as one of the UK's finest Shakespearians, she finally
succumbed to the lure of the celluiod and was continually Oscar-nominated,
for her roles in ‘Mrs Brown’ (1997) , ‘Shakespeare
In Love’ (1998), ‘Chocolat’ (2000) and ‘Iris’
(2001), and all this despite a general aversion to film! She has stated
that in films people are cast primarily because they look like a character,
whereas on stage, in an hour and a half, she has the opportunity and
ability to convince the audience she is whatever she chooses to be.
Olivia Dench was born on December 9th, 1934, in York, England. Her mother
hailed from Dublin, while her father studied medicine at Trinity College
and then worked as a doctor in York. Inadvertently, it was he who introduced
Judi to the world of theatre, as she would accompany him backstage at
York's Theatre Royal when he was busy as the company's GP (her brother,
Jeffrey, also became a theatre actor). In her youth, Dench became a
Quaker (she still is). This brand of christianity eschews both formal
doctrine and ordained priests, which may explain Dench's tough work
ethic and a love for communal theatre life that has often seen her turn
down film parts.
A prolific stage career soon followed, with seasons spent performing
with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.
Judi 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'.
can be guessed from her choosiness in films, Dench was a stage actress
first and foremost, and ranks alongside her contemporaries Maggie Smith,
Vanessa Redgrave and Diana Rigg as one of the best ever. She has been
praised for her "volatility, insecurity, mischief and moral resilience",
and for her "extraordinary access to her emotions" - skills
honed, of course, over nearly 45 years of hard graft. But it wasn't
all po-faced thespianism, as Dench has a highly advanced sense of humour,
as proved way back in 1965 in a production of Noel Coward's Private
Lives. Co-starring with Edward Woodward, the pair were constantly playing
pranks on one another, the funniest being when, during one performance,
Woodward shoved Dench against a drinks trolley. The trolley was supposed
to topple over with a crash, but on this occasion it stayed upright,
with Dench stuck in it. Instead of helping his co-star to her feet,
Woodward turned and walked away, leaving her to humiliatingly struggle
free. Dench would also send herself up in 1968, when appearing on the
Morecambe & Wise Show.
a deadly serious actress, Dench would find greater fame in the early
Eighties, in the TV sit-com 'A Fine Romance' (to which she sang the
theme). Here she starred with her real-life husband Michael Williams,
whom she'd met at the RSC and married in 1971 (they have one daughter,
actress Finty Williams). Sadly, Williams died on January 11th, 2001,
after a long and brave struggle with lung cancer. Dench would win one
of her five (and counting) BAFTAs for 'A Fine Romance', keeping the
hits coming by appearing in several of the mid-Eighties' excellent British
period dramas - A Room With A View, A Handful Of Dust and 84, Charing
Cross Road. She was also, nearly, Grizabella in the original West End
cast of Cats, but pulled out, leaving Elaine Paige to lap up the praise
for her centrepiece performance of Memories.
in the mid-Eighties, Dench appeared alongside Kenneth Branagh in Ghosts.
They formed a strong and fruitful working relationship, which saw Dench
take on a directing role for Branagh's Renaissance Company. Amongst
other plays, she directed 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Look Back In Anger'
and 'Henry V', stepping back into the ranks to appear in Branagh's 1989
film version of the last of those three.