CINEMATIC 007 -- For many years, the M’s real name was a closely guarded secret, but this wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, M’s identity was fairly well known, particularly by James Bond, going all the way back to the writings of Ian Fleming.
In Fleming’s very first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, the character of M was introduced, as the head of British Secret Service, also known as MI6. The character was inspired by Rear Admiral John Godfrey who was Fleming’s superior at the naval intelligence division during World War II. There’s also a theory that Fleming based the name of this character on his very own mother. As a boy, Ian Fleming called his mother M. It’s not until the third James Bond novel Moonraker that we find out that M’s initials are M.M., and we later discover that his first name is Miles. In the last official James Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, the full identity of M is finally revealed. The full name of M from the original James Bond novels is Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy.
The character of M would remain a supporting character throughout the film series, and through many incarnations, but movie-goers never really knew the full given name of this character M – unless of course they had read the novels – but can we be sure that the films kept in tradition with the novels and retained M’s true name?
In the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond visits M at his home. When he’s greeted at the door, James Bond refers to M as the admiral, which of course would confirm that the film version of M is an admiral, just as he was in the books.
In 1977, the film The Spy Who Loved Me shows us the first time M is actually addressed by his real first name. When British intelligence teams up with Soviet intelligence, it’s General Gogol who refers to M by his first name, Miles.
Therefore, we can safely conclude that the first film-incarnation of M played by actor Bernard Lee was in fact, Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy.
It’s also in this film, The Spy Who Loved Me, where we get our first insight into the name of Q. In the James Bond novels, it’s revealed that Q’s real name is actually Major Boothroyd. Once again, we can never be positive if the film has retained the true name of Q, but in The Spy Who Loved Me, Major Amasova refers to Q by his given name.
When Bernard Lee passed away, the filmmakers had to find a new actor to play M. Enter actor Robert Brown in 1983′s Octopussy. The question for movie-goers was, is this a new actor filling the role of Sir Miles Messervy, or is this a completely new character who’s been promoted to the position of M?
What’s interesting here is that the actor, Robert Brown, already has a history in the James Bond films. In the film The Spy Who Loved Me, Brown appeared playing flag officer of submarines, Admiral Hargreaves. When Brown reappears as M in 1983, many fans wondered if this was indeed the same character. While it’s not official canon, many James Bond scholars do agree that this M is the very same Admiral Hargreaves who’s now been promoted to the position of M.
They acknowledged this for several reasons. First, Hargreaves was an admiral just as Sir Miles Messervy was. Brown had a very recognizable role in The Spy Who Loved Me. They also seemed to agree that Brown plays the role of M very differently. He seems to be a little kinder, a little softer than the way he was originally portrayed by Bernard Lee.
Therefore, in the James Bond film series from 1983 through 1989, M’s real name is Admiral Hargreaves.
In 1995′s Goldeneye, we were introduced to a new M, and this time there will be no mistaking that this was a new character who is filling the position. In real life, Stella Rimington was made the head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996. It was this real life event that inspired filmmakers to hire actress Judi Dench to play the part of M.
Later in the same film, Valentin Zukovsky, seems to mock the new M for being a “lady.” It’s no surprise that this is in fact a new character filling the position, but this M’s identity would remain a closely guarded secret. At no time is there any mention of this M’s given name even in situations that would seem to warrant it.
In The World Is Not Enough, M is reunited with long-time friend Sir Robert King.
M herself indicates that she’s known Robert King ever since law school. Which would mean that she’s known he and his family for decades. We’re also told that M got involved with Robert King’s family crisis when his daughter Elektra was kidnapped by Renard. Now, while we’re fairly certain that M used her position as the head of secret service to aid King during this crisis, it’s clear that she’s known him for many years before she had ever considered accepting such a position.
So you have to wonder why Robert King, Elektra, and Renard would still refer to her as M, instead of using her given name. Therefore, this incarnation of M seems to have kept her identity a secret from movie-going audiences.
There is however an interesting asterisk* in the story of M’s real name, during Judi Dench’s tenure, as author Raymond Benson offers a possible solution. After the death of Ian Fleming, subsequent authors picked up the mantle and kept on writing new James Bond adventures. John Gardner was the first to pick up the torch, and in his final 007 novel, Cold, Sir Miles Messervy actually retires from MI6. Following Gardner was Bond expert and author, Raymond Benson.
In his 1998 novel, The Facts of Death, Benson continues the storyline of Messervy’s retirement. In the book, Sir Miles Messervy is thrown a retirement party, and the new, female M is in attendance. It’s widely known that Benson used and followed the inspiration of Judi Dench’s M in his novels. In The Facts of Death, Benson assigns the new M a given name.
M’s name in Raymond Benson’s James Bond novels is Barbara Mawdsley.
While this is hardly official canon, and the film-makers tend to avoid the continuation novels altogether, many James Bond experts and enthusiasts seem to have adopted this as the real life name of Judi Dench’s M, particularly during the Brosnan era.
Fast forward to 2006, and to the film Casino Royale. We’re told that this film is a complete reboot of the James Bond franchise. The slate has been wiped clean. We have a new James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, who in the opening scenes, has just committed two assassinations which give him his 00 status. Everything about this Bond universe is new except for one thing – the recasting of Judi Dench in the part of M – which naturally left many moviegoers scratching their heads. Why, if this is a completely new Bond universe, do we have the same actress portraying M? Conspiracy theories aside, the filmmakers made it very clear that there really is no specific reason for recasting Judi Dench to play M, other than the fact that they really like her in this role.
You can also tell by Dench’s performance that she’s playing the part of M in a completely new way. Judi Dench really shows off her acting chops as she reboots the character. Whereas, previously she played off Brosnan perfectly by being calm and even tempered, the new version of M is gruff and sometimes harsh, which is much more suitable to stand up to tough guy Daniel Craig. In her very first scene with Craig, it’s clear that M’s identity would remain a closely guarded secret.
It’s not until the film Skyfall that the mystery of M’s true name is actually solved. If you blink, you’ll miss the revelation, but in one of the final scenes, M’s real name is actually revealed.
The last scene of Skyfall finds James Bond reflecting on recent events as he gazes across the skyline of London. Eve meets him on the roof and lets him know that M’s will had been read, and that she left something for Bond. She hands him a medium-sized black box. Bond opens the box to find the beaten up bulldog statue, draped in the Union Jack, that M had always kept on her desk.
Now, if you look closely at the black box, (and when I mean closely, I mean if you have a large high-def TV, and a Blu-Ray copy of Skyfall,) you may catch this if you look quickly. When James Bond closes the box, you could see an inscription on the side. The inscription reads, "From the estate of Olivia Mansfield, Bequeathed to James Bond." While it’s not spoken out loud, as far as I’m concerned, if you can see it in the film, then it’s official.
M’s real name, from Casino Royale to Skyfall, is Olivia Mansfield.
Which of course brings us to the present. With the death of Olivia Mansfield, the position of M would have to be filled. In Skyfall, we’re introduced to the character of Gareth Mallory, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and a former lieutenant colonel of the British Army. This M is played by actor Ralph Fiennes. At the conclusion of Skyfall, James Bond enters M’s office and is greeted by Mallory who hands him his new assignment.
This brings us to an interesting reversal. For many years, particularly during the Brosnan era, we knew the given name of Q to be Major Boothroyd. However, the identity of M always remained a secret. Today, we seem to know the given name of M as Gareth Mallory, but now we do not know the real given name of Q, as played by actor Ben Whishaw.
Perhaps that will be another article.