Over the years, M has been a character and name synonymous with the James Bond franchise, and one surprising theory has suggested that Judi Dench secretly played two different incarnations of the character. Judi Dench played M for 20 years, debuting in Goldeneye in 1995 and making a final cameo appearance in 2015’s Spectre. During this time, she appeared in eight James Bond movies, meaning that she played M for longer and was in more of the movies than any other actor.
The role straddled two separate James Bond eras and some differences in the characterization of M between the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig movies was present. This was because the relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Brosnan’s, more experienced, Bond was fractious from the beginning, with her labeling him in Goldeneye, “a sexist, misogynist, dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” In addition, while capable of compassion, which was used against her in The World Is Not Enough, M was also undoubtedly feared by her subordinates in MI6. This somewhat contrasted with the Daniel Craig James Bond movies, which saw her acting as more like a surrogate mother to Bond while her actions and contributions tended to be more personally motivated.
This difference could be explained simply by ignoring an obvious assumption about M in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig James Bond eras. Rather than assuming that Judi Dench was playing the same character in the eight Bond movies in which she appeared, there is a theory proposing that she played two different versions of M. To be more specific, it was suggested that her real name in the Pierce Brosnan movies was Barbara Mawdsley, while she is another character called Olivia Mansfield in the Daniel Craig Bond continuity.
Why Judi Dench May Have Played Two Different Versions Of M
Interestingly, there has been some evidence to back this idea. M’s name was revealed after her death in Skyfall when she posthumously left Bond a box containing a porcelain Union Jack bulldog. This box was tagged as being the property of Olivia Mansfield, which confirmed an official retcon of the M codename that Daniel Craig’s James Bond had previously alluded to in Casino Royale.
More than this, it also revealed that Dench’s M had a different name from the one she was believed to have had when Pierce Brosnan was Bond. The rumor that M was named Barbara Mawdsley in Goldeneye’s original script has persisted for a long time. However, while there has been no official confirmation of this, the name Barbara Mawdsley did appear during the period Pierce Brosnan played 007. The 1997 James Bond novel, Zero Minus Ten by Raymond Benson featured a female M with the same name, and Benson later confirmed in a Q&A that “I couldn’t help but picture Judi Dench in my mind when I did it.”
Although this was hardly conclusive, it cannot be denied that Judi Dench redefined the role of M. She was the first female M, the only M killed in the line of duty, and the only M to interact with the main villain in both The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall. On this basis, the suggestion that she played two different versions of M would hardly seem outlandish. More than this it would be fitting for her trailblazing example to create similar opportunities for female characters in the James Bond movies of the future.