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But this is nothing compared with the rage she displays when she talks of one particular critic. "He dared to compare her with me: an actress who has been in the business for five years with one who has been working for 40. (Four years ago, Finty burnt down their Hampstead house, having fallen asleep with a lighted candle by the bed.) She insists that she never spoilt her but admits Finty may have found it demoralising professionally to be Dame Judi Dench's daughter.Their Sussex house is now home to Finty and Sam, too. She is "too busy" for that, she snaps; she doesn't feel the experience has changed her at all, nor has it helped her in her role in Amy's View and that is all there is to say.No whiff of scandal has attached itself to their marriage in 26 years, yet Dench has often worried that her shy Catholic husband might one day walk out.Underneath the Quakerish niceness, she seems to live at a pitch of almost unbearable intensity.When Dench is cross, she can be a little terrifying.Under the helmet of whitey-grey hair, her eyes (unnaturally blue, I discover, due to tinted contact lenses) glint dangerously. It is very hard for the children of actors; they are not judged on their own merits."Both she and Williams tried to dissuade Finty from following them, but "Finty is very much her own woman," says Dench, her anger now abruptly snuffed. "We have the same profile," she says, "but, in character, she is different. She thinks things through; I act on impulse."Behind Dench's reticence and depth of feeling on this subject may lie a fear that she is indirectly responsible for her daughter's troubles.
Then her crisp voice turns into a hoarse whisper, the catch in it almost painful to hear.
Anyway, I cut it all off when I wasn't asked to play Ophelia in America because my notices weren't good enough."That was in 1957, and it was a rare droplet of criticism in the ocean of praise and awards that she has received for her acting.
Yet, although she is booked well into the new year, with Amy's View and another television series of As Time Goes By, she still frets about her career.
"It is lovely to be four when once we were three," says Dench with obvious delight. It is perhaps no surprise that Dench should be sensitive about her daughter, but one is less prepared to find that she can take quick offence at references to her own appearance and to her undisputed talent.
Earlier in the day, she had been asked why she kept her hair so short and the mere question made her furious. "I could never keep it long; it would go all feathery.
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She is also known to have a happy marriage to the actor Michael Williams and a penchant for needlework, drawing and writing letters.