When you think of the best British actors of all time, Judi Dench has got to be somewhere near the top of the list. The legendary star cemented her status as an icon many years ago, thanks to her long association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and her role as M in the James Bond franchise. There’s much more to Dench than her most famous roles, though. This collection of vintage photographs tells the extraordinary story of her personal and professional life, from conquering the stage and screen to experiencing love and loss — and even sharing an ice cream with royalty! As these pictures prove, Judi Dench is truly one of a kind.
1957 — An extraordinary debut
At only 22 years of age, Dench landed her first professional job playing Ophelia in Hamlet. She later told Entertainment Weekly, “It was absolutely thrilling. This was the only thing I wanted to do — play characters in Shakespeare for the Old Vic. It simply couldn’t be any better.” A London Evening Standard review at the time declared the young actress had “talent which will be shown to better advantage when she acquires some technique to go with it.” There was much more to come.
1960 — Judi as Juliet
Following her debut as Ophelia, Dench remained with the Old Vic touring company for four years. One of her biggest roles during this period was as the female lead in a Franco Zeffirelli production of Romeo & Juliet. Her parents actually attended this production, and when, in character, she asked, “Where is my father and my mother?” during act three, Dench’s father, Reginald, yelled, “Here we are, darling, in row H!”
1960 — Photographic memory
Over the years, Dench’s photographic memory made learning lines a breeze. Sadly, in recent years, she’s revealed that a degenerative eye condition has made reading scripts almost impossible. On The Graham Norton Show, she admitted, “I need to find a machine that not only teaches me my lines but also tells me where they appear on the page. I used to find it very easy to learn lines and remember them. I could do the whole of Twelfth Night right now.”
1960 — Relaxing at home
Besides acting, Dench has always enjoyed a number of creative hobbies in her downtime. In a 1968 interview, she revealed, “I do lots of other things like painting and sewing and tapestry which make me very happy. They may be solitary things, but I am still a very gregarious person. I’m absolutely hopeless about being on my own. I don’t like living alone, but for the sake of not being alone then I’m not just going to have someone around to live with. Thank goodness there is a phone and one can talk to people.”