Dame Judi Dench
(1934 - )
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As 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.

Judith 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'.

As 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.

Though 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.

Also 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.













 

 

 

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