Tonight, Dame Judi Dench, the iconic British actress, stars alongside Scottish legend Billy Connolly in the 1997 historical drama Mrs Brown, which airs at 9pm on BBC Four. It follows the story of Queen Victoria’s staff becoming worried about her continued period of mourning after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert. John Brown, Victoria’s servant and a preferred riding companion of Albert’s, is enlisted to help lift her depression. The film was a huge hit, and earned Dame Judi widespread acclaim, including a Golden Globe for Best Actress.
It marked a glorious period of critical success for Dame Judi, who a year later would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress thanks to her part in Shakespeare in Love.
More nominations for Academy Awards followed in the years after, but by 2001, Dame Judi was left heartbroken after her husband Michael Williams, a fellow actor, died as a result of lung cancer.
Reflecting on their relationship, the actress, now 87, discussed how she never felt she would be able to find love again, but after a decade of grieving, eventually fell in love again.
Speaking to The Times in 2014, she said: “I am terrible on my own. I am really conscious of being in a room. Walking in is agony to me. Therefore I wouldn’t do it.”
The star noted how she “wasn’t even prepared to be ready for meeting David Mills, a conservationist, who she began dating in 2010, adding: “It was very, very gradual and grown up.”
The couple’s relationship developed over the years, with Dame Judi and David opening a squirrel enclosure at a wildlife centre he runs near their home in Surrey. She said: “We got together, in a way, through the animals. It’s just wonderful.”
A newspaper diary previously claimed that Dame Judi had even considered getting married again, but she quickly shut down those suggestions.
Explaining why she isn’t likely to remarry, she said: “We are much too independent. And he is very busy. He has a business to run. But he is soooo lovely, with a great sense of humour. Now it’s absolutely wonderful because there’s somebody who makes me laugh. Isn’t it lovely?”
JUST IN: Clint Eastwood on the film that saved his love of Hollywood
The actress spoke recently about Michael during BBC Two’s Louis Theroux Interviews, becoming emotional when recalling the relationship.
When asked how Michael passed, she said: “Well he wasn’t well… I’m not good at it, actually. Yes, he died in 2001 of lung cancer. Smoking you see, all that smoking when we were young.
“I was in New York and they said he was not well. My agent flew out and we came back on Concorde the next day and it aborted take-off.
“We got off and we went back and said: ‘Oh, it’ll be alright.’ We got on another plane and the same thing happened. It was a long old time to get back.
“We got back here and we were all in the house together and that was very, very good indeed.”
Mrs Brown airs at 9pm on BBC Four tonight.