Dame Judi adds ultimate Bafta to lifetime of awards

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Dame Judi Dench was honoured last night with the highest accolade bestowed by Bafta, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for a career as long as it is varied and a popularity to match.

At a special ceremony in London, she followed in the footsteps of Sir Michael Caine and the late director Stanley Kubrick by being awarded a Bafta fellowship in recognition of her outstanding contribution to television and film.

Sir John Mills, Dame Maggie Smith and Pierce Brosnan, alongside whose James Bond she starred, were among those who gathered at the Haymarket Theatre in London for the award ceremony, to be broadcast on BBC1 next month.

Praise was showered on the much-loved actress, who celebrated her 67th birthday yesterday at the end of a year marked by the death of her husband and fellow actor Michael Williams.

Stephen Fry, who hosted the event, said: "I believe that railings should be built around her so that all may admire her in an orderly and respectful fashion."

The film actor Kevin Spacey said he was "absolutely in love with her" and Kate Winslet, who stars with Dame Judi in the forthcoming film on the writer Iris Murdoch, added: "I would work with Judi if I had to be a tea-lady hovering in the back of frame."

Dame Judi has become one of Britain's most popular and successful actresses in a career spanning four decades.

To the general public, she is probably best known for her work on television, in series that include As Time Goes By with Geoffrey Palmer and A Fine Romance, in which she starred alongside her husband.

But she has also won much praise for her work on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, in roles including Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.

In 1996, she became the first person to win two Olivier awards in the same year, for best actress in Absolute Hell and best actress in a musical for A Little Night Music, both at the National Theatre.

Yet she only grabbed Hollywood's attention more recently. She earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for the 1997 film Mrs Brown, in which she starred as Queen Victoria.

The following year, she won the Oscar for best supporting actress for Shakespeare in Love and last year was nominated again, for her role in Chocolat.