As a lover of all things Ian Fleming, I was terribly dismayed when I heard that the character “M”, the venerable British Intelligence Chief, was going to be played by a woman in the 1995 James Bond installment “Goldeneye”.
I’m a purist. I like my characters to remain the same gender. Unless, of course, I’m reading “Orlando” and then that’s a whole other ball of wax.
So the bad news that “M” was going femme was only mildly softened by the news that Dame Judi Dench was going to play her. For those not in the know, a “Dame” in the British Empire is the female equivalent of knighthood. Now, I adore Dame Judi, but I did not adore the fact that the screenwriters gave her absolutely no meaningful part to play. Her boring part in “Goldeneye” was followed by the even more boring part in “The World is Not enough”, and then the sooper-dupa, nap-time hat-trick “Die Another Day”, at which point I had written the whole Dame Judi endeavor off as a terrific waste of actress.
That was until 2006’s “Casino Royale” and Hot Damn, did “M” get down! She went from a complete snooze-fest to an elder-stateswoman spook who’s been a little cranky since the Cold War ended. Add on the naughty, naughty Mr. Blond-Bond, and “M” gets to play a fantastic task-mistress trying to whip our boy James into shape.
So what does “M” bring to the intelligence table? Wrestling with the Politicians. After Bond does a disasterous job of tracking down and executing a bomb maker in an uber public fashion, “M” gets to play clean up with the Government. Her simultaneous mea culpa coupled with the righteous indignation at being criticized nicely sums up the incredible amount of grief I’m sure a lot of Intel Chiefs endure on a daily basis.
And when it comes to line delivery, when Bond threatens to reveal on film what the letter “M” stands for, Dame Judi gets the best line in the film:
“Utter one more syllable and I’ll have you killed.”
All hail Dame Judi.