The 83-year-old actress, who won an Oscar in 1999 for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love”, received the festival's Donostia Award, which goes to “a great film personality in recognition for their work and career”.
During a short ceremony to collect the prize, Dench said she first visited San Sebastián with her parents when she was a teenager but “never thought for a second, that I would be an actress the rest of my life” and receive “such an incredible award” here.
“I appreciate it very much indeed,” she added before her new film “Red Joan,” directed by Trevor Nunn, was screened.
In the film, inspired on a true story, she plays a tranquil retiree who is suddenly arrested by MI5 and exposed as a long-standing KGB spy.
Dench, a veteran star of the stage and screen, made her cinema debut in 1964 and has worked with directors as varied as Stephen Frears, Kenneth Branagh, Clint Eastwood and Sam Mendes.
Her subtle portrayal of complex characters such as Queen Victoria in “Mrs Brown” or author Iris Murdoch in “Iris” have earned her critical acclaim.
A seven-time Oscar nominee and the recipient of several Bafta awards, Dench is perhaps best known worldwide for playing M, the head of MI6, in James Bond films.
She became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1970 and advanced to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1988.
It was her first visit to the San Sebastián film festival, the oldest and most prestigious event of its kind in the Spanish speaking world.
— Donosti City ??? (@donosti_city) September 25, 2018
Dench joined US actor Danny de Vito and Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose film “Shoplifters” won the Palme d'Or in this year's Cannes Film Festival, who also picked up a Donostia Award this year.
Past recipients include Gregory Peck, Robert De Niro, Bette Davis, Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep.
The 66th edition of the festival concludes on Saturday. A total of 18 films are competing for the best film award this year.