Judi Dench

Judi Dench Biography

Judi Dench as M in the cast of GoldenEye

Dame Judith Olivia Dench was born 9 December 1934 in the Heworth area of York. She attended the Mount School, a Quaker independent secondary school.

She is an accomplished English actress with a career spanning over six decades, and is one of Britain’s most revered actresses of her generation, winning many awards for her work on stage and behind the camera.

Through her parents, she was exposed to the theatre at a young age, as her father was the GP for York Theatre Royal and her mother was its wardrobe mistress. At an early age, she was involved in the first three productions of the modern revival of the York Mystery Plays in 1951, 1954, and 1957.


Judi Dench initially trained as a set designer but became interested in acting after seeing Peggy Ashcroft play Cleopatra on stage, which she later said changed her life. She was accepted into the Central School of Speech and Drama, where she was awarded four acting prizes, including the Gold Medal as Outstanding Student.

Judi Dench made her professional stage debut in September 1957 with the Old Vic Company at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool as Ophelia in Hamlet. She then made her London debut in the same production at the Old Vic, and remained a member of the company for four seasons, 1957–1961. Her roles included Katherine in Henry V in 1958, which was also her New York City debut, and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in 1960.

In 1964, Dench appeared on television as Valentine Wannop in Theatre 625’s adaptation of Parade’s End, and made her film debut in The Third Secret, before appearing in a small role in the Sherlock Holmes thriller A Study in Terror (1965). She received the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles in 1966 for her performance in Four in the Morning, and the BAFTA Best Actress Award in 1968 for her role in John Hopkins’ 1966 BBC drama Talking to a Stranger.

In 1970, Dench joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), making numerous appearances with the company in Stratford and London for nearly twenty years and winning several Best Actress awards. Some of her notable roles with the RSC include the Duchess in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi in 1971 and Beatrice in John Barton’s British Raj revival of Much Ado About Nothing.

Judi Dench starred in Britain’s BAFTA award-winning A Fine Romance with her husband Michael Williams from 1981 to 1984, and appeared in several other film and television productions over the years, including 84 Charing Cross Road in 1987, and Shakespeare in Love in 1998, for which she won both the Academy Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

In 1995, Dench was cast as M in James Bond movie GoldenEye (1995). She succeeded Robert Brown in taking over as the role of M, James Bond’s becoming the first woman to play the role of 007’s boss. The character was reportedly modeled on Dame Stella Rimington, the real-life head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996.

Judi Dench remained the role of M for the next 17 years, starring in other Pierce Brosnan films Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Die Another Day (2002). She was the only member of the cast of Die Another Day to remain and she also starred in 3 Daniel Craig Bond movies Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and the highly successful Spectre in 2012, when her character was killed in a dramatic climax to the film.

Aside from her Bond roles, Judi Dench appeared in her first starring film role as Queen Victoria in John Madden’s teleplay Mrs Brown in 1997 and won universal acclaim for her performance, earning her fourth BAFTA and first Best Actress nomination at the 70th Academy Awards.

A year later she won Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 71st Academy Awards, for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love. In 2002, Dench was cast as one of the lead actors in Oliver Parker’s comedy-drama The Importance of Being Earnest, where she starred alongside Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, and Reese Witherspoon.

Other roles Dench has also starred in, include Clint Eastwood’s biographical drama J. Edgar (2011), in which she appeared alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), where she made a cameo appearance as a noblewoman. In 2015, Dench reprised her role as Evelyn in the sequel to the sleeper hit The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In recent years, Dench has continued to showcase her range and talent, appearing in films such as Tulip Fever (2017), Cats (2019), and Artemis Fowl (2020). She has also presented a nature documentary series, Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure, and was the subject of a Louis Theroux interview special for the BBC in 2022.

Judi Dench was honoured with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1970 Birthday Honours, and later elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1988 New Year Honours. She was further recognized as a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2005 Birthday Honours. Additionally, Dench has received numerous academic, Commonwealth, and Honorary awards, titles, and degrees.

In her personal life, Dench has been married to actor Michael Williams from 1971 until his death in 2001. They have a daughter, Finty Williams, who is also an actress and has given Dench a grandson. Dench has been in a relationship with conservationist David Mills since 2010. She is a patron and president of the alumni foundation of Drama Studio London, a patron of the British Shakespeare Association, and a vice-president of the wildlife conservation NGO Fauna and Flora International.