If you had to name one of the greatest English actresses of the last 50 years, the name Judi Dench would need to be close to the top of the list, if not number one.
From playing James Bond’s boss ‘M’ in several Bond films, to a couple of incarnations as Queen Victoria, Dame Judi Dench is one of the most recognisable English faces on both the big and small screens.
Having shot to film fame as a middle-aged Queen Victoria with a passion for a Scottish servant in Mrs Brown in 1997, 20 years on she is playing the same character as a bored and lonely elderly queen in Victoria and Abdul, which has just opened in cinemas around Australia.
This time, Dame Judi’s Queen Victoria is swept away by a handsome young visiting Indian servant, Abdul, who gives her a new lease of life, much to the consternation of her racially prejudiced and snobbish household. It has been a role Dame Judi has relished.
“It was quite easy to imagine how Victoria, by then cross and a bit tired, suddenly looked up and saw somebody at last to talk to, and someone at last pleasing to look at. He came to the Golden Jubilee to present her with a coin, but, seeing him, she wasn’t so interested in the coin…”Dame Judi chuckles.
Humour has always played a big part in Dame Judi’s life, and amongst her acting colleagues she is renowned for it. It’s a quality she loves to see in others, and values highly in her current leading man in Victoria and Abdul, Ali Fazal, describing him as “a beautiful young man. He’s kind of a romantic, and also a laugher; that’s a good mixture! We got on very well indeed,” she recalls.
It’s not surprising that a young Judi Dench gravitated towards the theatre, as her doctor father was the general practitioner for the York theatre in England, and her mother was its wardrobe mistress. Young Judi initially trained as a set designer, but when her brother Jeff attended the Central School of Speech and Drama, Judi applied and was accepted, later graduating with a first class degree in drama and the Gold Medal as Outstanding Student.
Dame Judi married the love of her life, actor Michael Williams, in 1971, and the couple worked together many times and had a daughter Finty, also an actor. When Michael died from cancer in 2001, Dame Judi was heartbroken, and never expected to find love again.
However, in 2010 Dame Judi met conservationist David Mills, and unexpectedly a friendship sprang up that developed into a romance that is still going strong today.
Even though her compelling performances and magnetic screen presence have made her one of the true greats of the screen, there is another side to Dame Judi that may be less well-known to fans of her acting prowess. She is a Quaker, a movement also known as the Religious Society of Friends, whose teachings emphasise a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, and are known for their firm stand on pacifism.
Educated at The Mount School in York, a Quaker secondary school, Dame Judi has held fast to her Christian faith over the years, saying “I think it informs everything I do…I couldn’t be without it.”
The Great Dame has spoken—and who would question her wisdom?