From an early age, Dench received considerable exposure to the world of acting and pursued this vocation by studying at London's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. She made her stage debut in 1957 as Ophelia in Hamlet, and went on to play several roles in Shakespeare's plays, including Juliet and Lady Macbeth. Although most of her work during this period was in theatre, she also branched into film work, and won a BAFTA Award as Most Promising Newcomer. She also performed in musical roles, starring in the London premiere of Cabaret in 1968. Over the next two decades, Dench established herself as one of the most significant British theatre performers, working for the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
She achieved success in television during this period, in the series A Fine Romance from 1981 until 1984, and in 1992 got a starring role in the television romantic comedy series As Time Goes By. Her film appearances were infrequent and included supporting roles in major films such as A Room with a View (1986) opposite Maggie Smith, but then she was cast as M in GoldenEye (1995), a role she continued to play in James Bond films until Skyfall (2012). She then received several accolades, including her first Oscar nomination for her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown (1997) and the following year won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love. A seven-time Oscar nominee, she has also received nominations for her roles in Chocolat (2000), Iris (2001), Mrs Henderson Presents (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006), and Philomena (2013).
Aside from her achievements in acting, Dench has shown support for animal rights, signing a petition calling for the sale of animal-tested cosmetic products to be banned. In support of 'Cruelty-Free 2013', which urged European Union (EU) politicians to keep the pledge to make the selling of such beauty products illegal, Judi said: "Using animals to test cosmetics is cruel and should be stopped. These days there are other means of testing which do not involve animal suffering."