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Detailed review of M's character in Wikipedia showed that Ian had different real life people in mind while portraying M. Wikipedia states:

Fleming based much of M's character on Rear Admiral John Godfrey, who was Fleming's superior at the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. After Fleming's death, Godfrey complained "He turned me into that unsavoury character, M.

Despite that different people are named, each one of them being a male. In the films also every characters for M was filmed as male before Judi Dench came into the scene.

So what might be the reason producers suddenly changed their view for M as male and introduced a female as M?

EDIT : After @jampez77 comment I also found this wikipedia link on Judi Dench, where it is told that

the producers brought in Dame Judi Dench to take over as the new M. The character is based on Stella Rimington, the real-life head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996.

So my question is now why did the producers took the risk to change the gender of such an important character in the movie? As it is seen viewers do not like it when anything vital is changed in the movie of any famous novel.

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3 Answers 3

So I don't think the other answers, although good, actually address why a female M (they're more about why Judi Dench to which the answer is Stella Rimmington). To answer why a female M, we need to look at both the history of Bond pre-Judi Dench, and also the film GoldenEye itself.

Prior to GoldenEye the previous two Bonds had been a mixed success. Roger Moore had been popular in the role but his advancing age (58 in a View to A Kill) and an overkill of gadgets (Moonraker is basically Bond in Star Wars), had led the makers to move to a more Fleming-esque line of films: more plot, less gadgets, more stunts. This had mixed results (For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy are seen by many as minor Bond films), and Moore's swansong (A View to A Kill) returned to earlier themes (look at Zorin's fold out map dastardly plot reveal on the airship and his plan to become dominant in his field by nuking the competition ala Goldfinger).

Post AVTAK, we had Timothy Dalton, and again a more Flemingesque, plot driven, pair of films, again with mixed success (did ok at the box office, but again regarded by many, but not all, as minor Bond films). There was then a big hiatus due to legal action (the Danjaq stuff about Thunderball rights) which meant it was nearly 10 years until a new Bond and film appeared (GoldenEye).

At this point to look at GoldenEye we see a number of points.

The film was a change of direction (again), but this time there was an attempt to bridge the two worlds of Fleming fans and Gadget Fans. This was done by bringing in a plot which was again similar to Goldfinger, but also made some decisions to span the worlds:

  • A suave Bond in Pierce Brosnan, evoking Sean Connery;
  • A conflicted Bond ala Timothy Dalton;
  • Still a number of quips and side seductions ala Roger Moore;
  • Retro elements such as the Aston Martin;

There are also modernising elements, to account for the later decade in which the film is made:

  • An updated storyline, taking into account the Soviet decline;
  • The impregnable bank is electronic, not a physical place;
  • The lead villain is an ex-ally turned traitor;
  • The indestructible henchman is a sexy woman (Xenia Onatop!);
  • The female lead (Natalia) is much stronger and survives much worse (the Severna attack, and return to Moscow) on her own without Bond's help;
  • The film abandons John Barry for music, using French artist Eric Serra (although you can hear this is abandoned halfway through to return to stock Bond music, and this finally worked when David Arnold came in in Tomorrow Never Dies)
  • Bond himself is seen as an anachronism, a blunt instrument and misogynist dinosaur;
  • A stronger and less sappy Moneypenny (although she ends up as much in love with Bond).

In this realm of change it is easy to see that with so many strong female characters, it's obvious that a female M would be a part of it. That they had Judi Dench/Stella Remington was a bonus.

As the Brosnan films went on, they ended up drawing back to the Moore days of gadgets, and when another hiatus due to studio financial issues caused them to start yet again, this time it was a full revamp of a young Bond, partly due to the only novel being left being the first, Casino Royale.

In this context the Judi Dench M was subtly changed to be a comforting carry over, AND a surrogate mother to the younger, less experienced Bond.

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In the older James Bond movies, the women were basically just there as eye candy and wouldn't have been taken seriously as head of an organization like the Secret Service. It has become true to life now, especially as Stella Rimington became the Director-General of the real life MI5 from 1992-1996.

Also In Fleming's earlier James Bond novels M was always a man. At that time there weren't really many women who had achieved high office ranks, but now women serve as Presidents in some countries and Prime Ministers in some countries too. So women can now portray M who is the head of MI6.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

@jampez77 s answer is fine. Just adding some more references to make the answer more compact. It is evident from all the wikipedia links or other sites that Ian Fleming himself portrayed M as a male officer, since in his time (28 May 1908 – 12 August 1964), these type of jobs were typically handled by male.

In the Film series of James Bond, M was characterized by different great actors as male. But things changed with the emergence of Dame Stella Rimington.

DCB (born 13 May 1935) is a British author, who was the Director General of MI5 from 1992 to 1996. She was the first female DG of MI5, and the first DG whose name was publicised on appointment. In 1993, Stella Rimington became the first DG of MI5 to pose openly for cameras at the launch of a brochure outlining the organisation's activities.

When Judi came into the scene, Robert Brown was playing as M. But after a long period,

After the long period between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye, the producers brought in Dame Judi Dench to take over as the new M.

This IMDB trivia shows, she was selected as M as the first female character because of the emergence of Stella Rimimgton's being the first major DG of MI5. Producers thought it would be nice to change the gender of M from male to female to keep in pace with the contemporary thinking.

Lois Maxwell, who played the character Moneypenny in Bond movies from 1962-1985, had made the suggestion of having M as a woman in 1985.

Judi Dench is famous for acting as M, but Louis is also famous(other than her being Moneypenny) for making the suggestion to the producers. Link1 and Link 2 suggest the fact. She was the one who first thought of M being a female.

This is the way M was changed to female by introducing Judi Dench.

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2  
Is there any question that Dench's version of M falls short? No. In fact, her strength of character is all the more compelling than any previous actor. –  wallyk May 2 '13 at 16:37

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