A True Diamond of Stage and Film
|Dame Judi Dench.|
One does not have to exaggerate the accomplishments of star of stage and screen Dame Judi Dench - they speak for themselves. She has won nine BAFTAs, seven Laurence Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award. For her accomplishments as of 1970, was named an Order of the British Empire. Later, she was honored with the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1988. In 2006 she was recognized with a Fellowship at the Royal Society of Arts.
Oh, and besides all that, she finally became a household name around the world when she began playing the role of "M" in the James Bond series. No, some folks' deeds speak for themselves and require no elaboration. There isn't another actress in the world who has that sort of resume, anywhere, any time.
But let's look a bit at her life anyway, just because. It's not as though she were hatched in mid-life as the most renowned actress of her time, which is when many gained her film acquaintance.
Actress Judith Olivia Dench was born on December 9, 1934, in North Yorkshire, England, to parents Reginald, a doctor, and his wife Eleanora. Reginald was the resident doctor for the Theatre Royal in York. Naturally, Judi showed up at the theater from time to time. It kindled a love of theater that never has been quenched.
Judi Dench showed her love of acting early on. She loved to dress up, and would sing alongside her mother at the family piano. Oddly enough, though, her introduction to the theater was not as an actress. She worked on the York Mystery Plays as a wardrobe girl, while her father took care of the family acting chores with bit parts.
Dench attended an all girls Quaker school, then followed that up with a brief stop at the York School of Art. She then went to London's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. The decision, Dench admitted, could be blamed on her brother Jeffrey, another aspiring actor who also attended the school and pushed his sister to pursue stage work. "I'd never have thought of acting if it wasn't for Jeff," she has said. A star is born.
|Dame Judi Dench as Ophelia in 1957.|
Dench's appeal opened doors for her. She made her stage debut in 1957 with the Old Vic Production Company at the Royal Court, turning heads, as Ophelia in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Dench continued work with the Old Vic for another four years.
|As Juliet in 1960, directed by "Romeo and Juliet" expert Franco Zeffirelli.|
In 1961 Dench joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, the start of a 30-year run with that playhouse that would see Dench take on every leading female Shakespeare role. Shakespeare - it's a British thing, for sure. But if you're going to do it, do it right - like Dame Judi.
|Dame Judi Dench relaxing.|
But Dench's talent wasn't limited Shakespeare or drama. In 1959 she made her television debut in the BBC series "Hilda Lessways." She stretched further when she took on comedic roles, including stage productions of Oscar Wilde. In 1968 she had a starring role as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret." She might have come to American attention sooner had she been chosen to star in the film of that name, but Liza Minnelli beat her to it.
The 1960s brought Dench to the big screen as well. Her performance as a young wife in "Four in the Morning" (1965) earned Dench the first of her ten British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) awards. Other strong performances in additional British movies followed. Coupled with her continued stage work in "Cabaret" and many other triumphs, Dench's fame in her native England grew.
|As Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" 1968.|
Mid-Career: Bond Calling, Will You Accept?
The Beatles made it look easy: get on a plane, get off the plane in New York City, become legends. It's really not quite that easy, thought. Just ask Cliff Richard, who is as big as Elvis in the United Kingdom, but who, despite sporadic success in the States and several attempts to gain a foothold there in the '70s and '80s, just never quite crossed over that threshhold.
Dame Judi Dench only managed it, despite all the awards and all the renown back in jolly old England, when she took on the role of a pop culture icon. Her early play work had brought to the States, but Dench was hardly a household name there. It wasn't until the 1990s, most notably as a result of her role as M, James Bond's boss in "GoldenEye" (1995) that she opened eyes across America. Dench has continued to reprise the role with each new Bond film, including the 2012 release, "Skyfall." Sadly, "Skyfall" turned out to be her last outing in the role. She was the only carry-over from the cast when the producers "rebooted" the franchise with "Casino Royale," which is about the highest compliment an actress can receive that isn't actually called an award.
|Dame Judi Dench as M in "Skyfall."|
With all that, she has some regrets. Dame Judi Dench has remarked that she wishes she had "sorted James Bond out" before relinquishing the role of M. Dench has admitted giving the role up was hard, and now she has wryly reflected on her regrets, telling The Hollywood Reporter she wishes M had "Sorted James Bond out. She's always trying to and she hasn't succeeded yet."
The arrival of Daniel Craig with "Casino Royale" was accompanied by a significant boost in her character's role and a new, somewhat maternal, tilt. That had its positives... and its negatives. "I was always complaining when I played M that I never got out of the office... I did at the end you see, and look what happened to me!"
You'll have to see the film to understand what she means there, I won't spoil it here. Famously, Dench has never met Craig, they filmed all of their scenes separately.
Ralph Fiennes will take over the role of M in future films - she appeared in a cameo in "Spectre" (2015). Fiennes would be the first to admit, however, that he could never fill Dame Judi's shoes.
|Dame Judi in 1968.|
Along the way, Judi Dench had married actor Michael Williams in 1971. The couple worked several times together, including in the British television series, "A Fine Romance," and the film "Tea with Mussolini" (1999). The two remained together up until Michael's death from cancer in 2001. Dench and Williams had one child together, the actress Finty Williams.
|Dame Judi Dench appearing in "Waste," 24 May 1985.|
The Bond role rejuvenated Dame Judi's career, though, truth be told, she was doing just fine anyway. In 1997 she further endeared herself to movie audiences in her first leading role as Queen Victoria in the biopic Mrs. Brown.
|Dame Judi as The Queen in "Shakespeare in Love."|
But it was another royal performance, this time as Queen Elizabeth I in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), that finally earned her an Oscar. Despite an on-screen time totaling just eight minutes, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year. One may surmise that raising her profile with the M role may have made some Academy voters a bit more receptive to the grand old lady of British stage and screen.
|Dame Judi adopts no airs when signing for fans.|
Other memorable roles followed the Bond success. Among them were "Chocolat" (2000), "Iris" (2001) and "Notes on a Scandal" (2006). There certainly were plenty of film offers, some of which she accepted, but that's not to suggest that Dench suddenly turned up her nose at her passion, stage work. The roles, though, now included American ones on Broadway. The same year she won her first Oscar, Dench also earned a Tony for best actress for her role in "Amy's View." In 1996 she won an unprecedented two Lawrence Olivier awards for Best Actress and Best Actress in a Musical. That's not easy.
Dench's approach to her work is highly personal. She famously doesn't read parts before accepting them, choosing instead to rely on the recommendations of friends and colleagues as to what is suitable. With her stage work, she is widely known for coming to rehearsals not having read the entire play. "Not reading pushes me to a kind of dangerous edge and there is something in me that needs that," she has explained. She also has said that herbs have helped her to memorize her lines.
It's impossible to argue with the results of her methods. Over the course of her career, Dench has been recognized repeatedly as the best there is. In addition to her 1999 Oscar, Dame Judi has received six Academy Award nominations, which is right up there with compatriot Peter O'Toole despite her late start. She's also won two Golden Globes and six Lawrence Olivier Awards. In 2006 she was recognized with a Fellowship at the Royal Society of Arts.
Are there beckoning fields yet to dream of for the greatest living actress? "I'd quite like to have done some sort of unbelievable action film," she admits. There's still time.
Dame Judi: a national - no, make that international - treasure.
Below is a recent interview by Dame Judi Dench in which she reflects upon her life and her major cause, Alzheimer's research.