No performer since Laurence Olivier has inspired the universal affection and respect afforded to Dame Judi Dench. Like Olivier, Dench has achieved consistent box office success at the cinema while simultaneously being lauded as one of the great classical actors of her generation.
Dench first came to public attention in 1957 when she appeared as Ophelia in Hamlet at the Old Vic. Having established her classical credentials, Dench was then invited to perform in the inaugural season of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Dench’s early roles with the emerging RSC included Isabella in Measure For Measure, Anya in The Cherry Orchard and Dorcas in A Penny For A Song. (Then, as now, the RSC did not limit itself solely to Shakespeare.)
While Dench’s career has blossomed in myriad directions over the 47 years since she joined the RSC, she has maintained a strong association with the company, and has now performed many of the senior female roles in plays where she originally played the romantic lead. Dench’s most iconic roles with the RSC include Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (opposite Donald Sinden as Benedict) and Lady Macbeth (opposite Ian McKellen as Macbeth). Dench’s Lady Macbeth prompted Michael Billington in The Guardian to write: “If this isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is.”
Dench’s versatility as a performer is evinced by her long and successful run as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in the West End. This role further heightened Dench’s popular appeal and opened the way for her ongoing parallel career as a screen actress. Dench’s most popular television role has been alongside her friend Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By. Her film career includes appearances in various Bond films, Shakespeare In Love, Mrs Brown, Iris, Mrs Henderson Presents and Notes On A Scandal, a film which earned her Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
Judi Dench returned to the RSC in a musical version of The Merry Wives Of Windsor in 2006 and will appear in the West End in March 2009 in Madame De Sade.
Judi Dench has received seven Laurence Olivier Awards, three Critics’ Circle Awards, a Tony Award and an Oscar for her performance in Shakespeare In Love. She was awarded an OBE in 1970, became a Dame in 1988 and was made a Companion of Honour in 2005.