Over the years, M has been a character and name synonymous with the James Bond franchise, and a surprising theory has suggested that Judi Dench secretly played two different incarnations of the character. Judi Dench played M for 20 years and debuted in Golden Eye in 1995 and made a final cameo appearance in 2015 Ghost. During this time, she appeared in eight James Bond movies, meaning she played M longer and starred in more movies than any other actor.
The role spanned two separate James Bond eras, and there were some differences in M’s characterization between the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films. This was because the relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Brosnan’s more experienced, Bond was difficult from the start, with her label putting him in golden eye, “a sexist, misogynist, dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” Moreover, though capable of compassion, which was used against her in The world is not enough, M was no doubt also feared by her subordinates in MI6. This contrasted somewhat with the Daniel Craig James Bond films, in which she saw herself more as a surrogate mother for Bond, while her actions and contributions tended to be more personally motivated.
This difference can be easily explained by ignoring an obvious assumption about M in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig James Bond eras. Rather than assuming that Judi Dench played the same character in the eight Bond films she appeared in, there is a theory 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 is some evidence to support 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 owned by Olivia Mansfield, confirming an official retcon of the M codename that Daniel Craigs James Bond had previously alluded to. Casino royale.
More so, it also revealed that Dench’s M had a different name than the one she had when Pierce Brosnan was Bond. The rumor that M was called Barbara Mawdsley in… Golden Eye‘s original script has survived for a long time. Although there is no official confirmation of this, the name Barbara Mawdsley did appear during the time that Pierce Brosnan played 007. The 1997 James Bond novel, Zero minus ten by Raymond Benson had a female M of the same name, and Benson later confirmed in a Q&A that “I couldn’t help but see Judi Dench in my mind when I did it.”
While this was hardly convincing, it cannot be denied that Judi Dench redefined the role of M. She was the first female M, the only M to be killed during her service, and the only M to interact with the main villain in both The world is not enough and skyfall. Based on this, the suggestion that she would play two different versions of M would hardly seem strange. More than this, it would be fitting for her pioneering example to create similar opportunities for female characters in the James Bond movies of the future.