The new James Bond film Skyfall has finally hit theaters with actress Judi Dench in the role of M, the MI6 head of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
In 1995, Judi Dench took on the famous role of M, the head of MI6, in the James Bond film GoldenEye. It was a huge risk for producers since the role had previously been portrayed by male actors Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, who both embodied the head of the Secret Intelligence Service from 1962 to 1989.
Although Lee played M in the first eleven Bond movies, Brown took over in 1983 in Octopussy and ended his run as M in 1989 in Licence to Kill. And just to cover the bases, Edward Fox played M in Sean Connery’s 1983 return to Bond in Never Say Never Again.
But Judi Dench brought something much different to M, a headstrong, confident female leader who also respected Bond in a way only a motherly figure could (at least in Quantum of Solace). Her take on M was largely based on Stella Rimington, the real-life head of MI5 from 1992-1996.
More importantly, however, it was Dench’s steely-eyed gaze that could turn James Bond into a secret agent schoolboy when needed.
In honor of Judy Dench and her portrayal as the head of MI6, we picked out our favorite faces of M:
GoldenEye: Introducing a new “M”
Dench took on the role of M in the 17th Bond film, GoldenEye with Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond. And with a new Bond on the scene, the new M was quick to put James in his place.
Who could forget when she let her true feelings about Bond be known. “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,” M confessed, “a relic of the Cold War.” Ouch!
Although it was fun to watch M give Bond a dose of reality, their working relationship also called for mutual respect. It was begrudging for both characters, but it was there nonetheless. It was Dench’s dedication to her role as M that cemented the belief that a woman could play the key role.
M was an essential character foil to the often over-confident James Bond. Gender was an afterthought.
Tomorrow Never Dies
In her second stint as M, Judi Dench stepped up her intelligence game as the head of MI6. By this time, Dench made us forget all about the male actors who came before her as she came into her own as a strong female character.
Although James Bond had to save the world, M stood her ground against headstrong, power-hungry and selfish British Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer), who felt he knew better than the head of MI6.
Despite all of their bickering, M’s faith in Bond put an end to potential nuclear armageddon. If it wasn’t for M, tomorrow would have died and taken us along with it.
It’s doubtful she’d ever admit to playing such a huge role in world affairs.
The World Is Not Enough
Things were personal for M in this one since her friend’s money went missing and Bond was dispatched to find out the truth. But when her friend turned up dead inside MI6, she quickly assigned Bond the duties of protecting the man’s daughter.
Little did she know it at the time, M’s decision brought her full circle in an unexpected way.
But M soon became the focus of the story when she was abducted and James not only needed to save the world but also his boss. The world was definitely not enough.
Despite the contentious relationship between M and Bond, past, present, and future, she actually owes Bond her life.
The least she could have done was crack a smile … if only for a second!
Die Another Day
In this one, M had the unfortunate duty of suspending Bond as an agent after he allegedly leaked information while tortured in captivity. Of course Bond wasn’t about to sit still on M’s orders and headed for Cuba to complete his mission of hunting down an arms-for-diamonds dealer.
Enter Halle Berry as a Bond girl and the famous bikini scene.
After making his way to Iceland to chase a diamond billionaire, M restored Bond’s agent status and offered her support in the investigation. Although she suspended Bond as agent, it wasn’t for the same reason we’d later see in Quantum of Solace.
Did Bond deserve to be suspended by M? Well, let’s just call it damage control.
Casino Royale: A New Bond
In 2006, Daniel Craig took on the role of James Bond who formed a new and unique working relationship with M. And this time it was different.
Although we couldn’t call them friends, or even friendly toward each other, there was a sense of genuine respect hidden under layers of sarcasm and feigned disinterest.
Daniel Craig’s Bond was more bold, reckless and brash. M’s reaction to all three was decidedly different than her previous turns as the head of MI6.
After Bond broke into M’s home and hacked her computer, we bet James felt the sting of her glare through the phone.
Can you feel her glare from there?
Quantum of Solace
Although M and James Bond had a Batman and Robin type relationship at the beginning of Quantum of Solace, things quickly turned sour when M lost her faith in Bond as an agent.
When an advisor to the British Prime Minister was killed on a risky mission with Bond, M revoked his credentials and credit cards and later tried to have him arrested for disobeying orders.
Although Bond was suspended before in Die Another Day, this time it was more severe and with fatal consequences.
Of course we all know that it wasn’t the end of the franchise and Bond returned to MI6 after being reinstated by M. “I never left,” admitted Bond despite spending much of the movie leaving us to wonder.
There’s solace in those eyes somewhere!
Skyfall: A Rivalry Forever
After six films and seventeen years of dealing with Bond’s antics, M had even less patience in Skyfall. Although we won’t reveal all that goes on with M in Skyfall, fans will certainly respect Judi Dench much more when it’s over.
It’s been nearly two decades since Dench took on the role and we’re glad she did.
But the two characters know each other so well that we’re surprised it took so long for things to play out the way they do. Although they called a truce in The World is Not Enough and went on to have a colorful but professional relationship in the years since, Skyfall adds a deeper layer.
From GoldenEye to Skyfall, her glare has always been consistent.
Which of the many faces of M do you like best?