The M of two worlds

Judi Dench as M -- or one of them.

Judi Dench as M — or one of them.

For the past seven years, there’s been a recurring debate: If the 007 film series started all over with Casino Royale, how can Judi Dench’s M still be around?

One possible answer is this: The Bond movies starting with Casino comprise a separate fictional universe from the other 007 films. The Judi Dench M of 1995-2002 (the Pierce Brosnan films) is different than the Judi Dench M of 2006-2012 (Daniel Craig’s first three films). They just look remarkably alike and are obviously played by the same actress.

Recently, the ComingSoon.net Web site had AN ARTICLE ABOUT SKYFALL’S PROPS. There was this excerpt:

As we looked at the porcelain bulldog M bequeaths Bond, the archive assistant read the inscription on the box it is presented to him in – “Olivia Mansfield bequeaths James Bond.” We’ve searched around, and as far as we can see this is the first and only time anyone’s ever revealed M’s ‘real name.’ It may not have been spoken, but if you were watching on a big enough screen it could have been visible, so we’d argue it’s now canon.

Earlier, during the Brosnan era, the Dench M was incorporated into Raymond Benson’s 007 continuation novels. One of them name gave her the name Barbara Mawdsley. That’s certainly not canon for the film series (which avoids Bond continuation novels like the plague). But it has been adopted by some fans.

What’s more, as many fans have noted, the two Ms seem to have different backgrounds. The Brosnan era M had been promoted from the analysis section and, in GoldenEye, said Bond was a relic of the Cold War. The Craig era M yearns for a return to the simplicity of the Cold War. Also, she’s rather adept at helping Bond prepare booby traps at Skyfall Lodge, skill sets she learned somewhere besides the analysis section. Not conclusive by any means, but all of that can be cited in making the case the characters are different.

The concept of different universes is hardly new and predates the Bond film series. It was a staple of science fiction and comic books.

DC Comics embraced the idea in 1961 with “The Flash of Two Worlds.”

The cover to Flash No. 123, "The Flash of Two Worlds."

The cover to Flash No. 123, “The Flash of Two Worlds.”


Five years earlier, DC had come out with a new version of the Flash, a hero who could move at super-speed. Instead of simply reviving the original Flash, DC came out with a different character with a different costume. The new Flash became popular and DC proceeded to produce new version of other Golden Age characters such as Green Lantern, the Atom and Hawkman.

The 1961 story has the two Flashes meeting when the new Flash manages to cross into the universe of the original character. (CLICK HERE to read more details.) This, too, was a hit with readers and DC further expanded on the alternate universe concept.

Now some fans say this is ridiculous, science fiction concepts have no place in the Bond films. To each their own. You could also argue the 2006 reboot would have been cleaner had M simply been recast at that time. But Judi Dench was popular and, with a new Bond, Eon opted to keep her even as characters such as Miss Moneypenny and Q were absent from Casino.

It was certainly understandable from a marketing perspective, if nothing else. So perhaps it really is, “The M of Two Worlds.”

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8 Responses

  1. SPOILERS FOLLOW:

    With Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, I would have agreed with the two universes concept. Indeed, that may have been the only way to reconcile Bond again beginning in 2006. The fact that I hated the idea is neither here nor there. However, in Skyfall, with Q’s presence and the movie’s very ending, with the Moneypenny reveal and then meeting M in what are essentially the same office suite from Dr. No, instead allows the Craig films to fit into the same universe as the first 20 films. Now I realize that there a myriad of issues that arise from that, such as Mallory v. Messervy, meeting Felix for the first time twice, Moneypenny’s and Felix’s changing races, etc., but the first 20 films have had continuity glitches–such as Bond and Blofeld meeting each other for the first time–one film right after the other.

    Sam Mendes deliberately set out to link Skyfall with Dr. No. He has stated so in interviews and in the commentary on the Skyfall DVD.

    Also, the official Eon publication James Bond The Secret World of 007 explains that Bond is a “real” person and there are six actors who have played him in presumably fictionalized accounts of his life on the silver screen. While I have not played the video games, I understand that the latest, 007 Legends, has Craig’s Bond encountering characters and situations from the first 40 years of Bond films, with the explanation that Bond was flashing back to past adventures after Moneypenny shot him. Additionally, there has been much debate on different forums as to how the Aston Martin in Skyfall could not be the same as in Casino Royale given the drive being on different sides, and the fact that it is equipped with the Goldfinger and Thunderball gadgets has also created many unanswered questions.

    Thus, I do not think we need to be so rigid with two separate universes. Instead, I think we should look at the Craig films as blending in with the others. I doubt that Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have spent that much time thinking about this–I remember Barbara Broccoli admitting that Judi Dench playing M in Casino Royale made no sense, but as she was such a great actress and terrific in the role, they wanted to continue to utilize her talents. Sam Mendes obviously wanted to merge the rebooted films with the old Bond, and while I do not know how much was in the original script and how much of it was his idea, Eon did nothing to stop him.

    Besides, as you said, the mult-universe concept is a science fiction one, and while the advanced technology we have seen in the films may put Bond into that category, the series is not science fiction in the sense that the DC comics are.

    Instead, as I said, blending the Craig films in with the others, and allowing for them to serve as prequels works. Skyfall has done remarkably at the box office, and now seems poised to do so with DVD and Blu Ray. I am sure that one of the reasons is that people were happy to see what I described above. I saw the film more then once at the theatre, and the last time I did that with a Bond film was in 2002. For me, and I presume for many others, Bond is back. In a big way.

  2. At the moment we have full bodied synopsis for the James Bond 24 screenplay it’s full bodied greater depth embraces the 50th anniversary and dove tails as a sequel they have to start moving away from the need to piece together stories from whats left of the flemming novels with a bit of ingenuity let the theme give rise to the script rather than the script dictate the film until Eon Productions & MGM recognize the need to move forward on this we can only draw their attention that there’s no reason not to resume. They know we’ve also entered for casting for the lead. – Justin Olaff Smith

  3. I don’t like that idea! Why just don’t keep the same M? Bernard Lee was the same M with Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Roger Moore. Robert Brown the same M with Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. Why complicating things with Judi Dench? Stop rebooting the reboots for God’s sake!

  4. “For the past seven years, there’s been a recurring debate: If the 007 film series started all over with Casino Royale, how can Judi Dench’s M still be around?”

    Uh… that hasn’t been a recurring debate at all. I don’t think ANYONE has been asking that question. You just made up that false drama. It’s not been an issue with anyone. It’s a reboot, and she’s playing M in the reboot, just as she did before. No problem, and not a subject that’s been debated.

  5. @Dan: No, we didn’t make it up. Some people still argue the point. We see it often enough that we decided to post about it. Thanks for the feedback, nonetheless.

  6. [...] popularize it and DC would soon use the notion to bring back old versions of other characters. As we’ve written before,, Eon Productions adapted the idea when it decided to start the series over with 2006′s Casino [...]

  7. […] February 2013: THE M OF TWO WORLDS […]

  8. Greta article – and just because the 007 universe cannot explicitly refer to a multiverse, one could argue that this is how popular culture operates even when not explicitly stated. Bond populates a matrix of different continuities – true, there are significant contradictions here, especially with the return of the vehicle from Goldfinger in Skyfall. What absolutely does not work despite many commentators claiming otherwise, is to cite Craig’s films as preludes or prequels. Casino is clearly set in 2006 (new Aston Martin DB 5, explicit references to 9/11). Craig’s Bond exists in a different, alternative narrative universe to Connery-Lazenby-Moore-Dalton-Brosnan Bond. If one were to ‘stitch’ Skyfall in front of Dr. No, the narrative would collapse and make no sense. This would be more science fictional that the concept of a multiverse (which contemporary Quantum mechanics bears out, by the way). Moneypenny would turn from black to white, Mallory would metamorphose into Bernard Lee and, even worse, the temporality of the narrative world would be rewound which means that Bond has travelled back in time. The décor of the office, Moneypenny (and Q’s) return is homage and a signal that the next Bond film may feature more ‘fun’ and a more relaxed Bond. The final words of Skyfall bear this out:
    M: You ready to return to duty, Bond?
    B: With pleasure, M. With pleasure!

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