Dame Judi? She’s the best Bond lady EVER
Honey Ryder, eat your heart out. Nobody does it better than Dame Judi Dench says Ian Fleming’s biographer
There was a revealing moment at the opening of an exhibition of James Bondrelated cars at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu earlier this year. In best PR fashion, an article had appeared that day in a national newspaper where three of the more nubile actresses who had disported themselves in 007 lms, had pleaded, ‘Don’t call us “Bond girls”, we’re “Bond ladies”.’
Ralph Montagu, son of Lord Montagu who owns Beaulieu, had clearly read this piece, because in a speech of welcome to some of the more mature Bond actresses, including Eunice Gayson (aged 84) and Britt Ekland (a mere 69), who had come to grace the event, he had carefully described them as ‘Bond ladies’, whereupon they all giggled and insisted in mock indignation that they were ‘Bond girls’.
Every woman wants to be a Bond girl/lady; every man wants to have one. We know that: they’re the epitome of female glamour, sophistication and allure.
As someone who has written about Bond for many years, I have often heard successful women – authors, lawyers and fund managers – tell me how, in a parallel career universe, they would like to have been Bond girls.
Girls or ladies, it does not really matter. Whereas 50 years ago (yes, it is unbelievable) the essence of the Bond girl was conveyed in an iconic image of a blonde beauty emerging from the sea in a bikini (albeit with a knife strapped to her side), today she needs to be a superwoman, harnessing the martial arts skills of Bruce Lee, the wit of Dorothy Parker and the sassiness of Louise Mensch.
There is already a woman in the Bond lms who reflects all this, and that’s 007’s boss, the redoubtable M, played by Judi Dench. You don’t get to the top of the secret service by being a wuss. And while she is no longer young, you can imagine that, when dealing with intelligence assets in the eld 30 years earlier, she marshalled her personal assets attractively enough to have had her own chiefs chasing her round the table. Dame Judi rst starred as M in GoldenEye in 1995. At the time the James Bond ‘franchise’ was in the doldrums. No Bond lm had been made for six years – a result of squabbles and litigation in the cinema industry.
But Eon Productions, the company that makes the Bond lms, was determined to reestablish the brand. As well as hiring Pierce Brosnan as a suave new 007, it broke the mould by making his boss M a woman, played by the iconic Judi Dench. This reflected changes at the top of the intelligence services where Stella Rimington had recently become the first female head of MI5. Women were at last beginning to break through the glass ceiling.
It has since become de rigueur for any Bond actress to claim feminist credentials (the 007 equivalent of the pagethree girl who finds her job ‘empowering’).
But Dame Judi needs none of that. Although Brosnan has gone, too much of a mannequin to survive this harsh egalitarian environment, she remains – an enduring representative of modern James Bond values (shared by men and women alike) of toughness, intelligence and fairness.
As M she made her no-nonsense approach clear to Bond in her first outing in GoldenEye, where she memorably accuses him of being a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur… a relic of the Cold War.’
She has subsequently softened towards him, respecting his professional skills. Her badinage with Bond, as played by hard man Daniel Craig, is often very funny.
Nevertheless, while Judi Dench is wonderful in the role, we know little about her character. She has children, because she occasionally mentions them. In The World Is Not Enough, she advises against paying a ransom, though it goes against every instinct she has as a mother. In Casino Royale, Bond breaks into her penthouse apartment. There is even a glimpse of man in her bed, presumably her husband.
The flat itself is clinically sparse and modern, the sort of computer-friendly official residence any spy chief might have. We can imagine that, like Ian Fleming’s original M, Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, she has a more personal retreat in the country, dotted with career mementos, which might include souvenirs of Budapest or even Moscow, from her time (alluded to in Casino Royale) as a Cold War espionage warrior.
The word is that, in the new Bond film Skyfall, currently in production, this past comes back to haunt her in some manner, which will cause her to leave the service (and not appear in the series in the future). Dame Judi appears to have been seeking an exit anyway, partly, perhaps, because she suffers from macular degeneration and is battling to save her sight.
But in the meantime let’s salute her Bond girl-, lady-, or even dame-like qualities. Truly, nobody does it better.
Andrew Lycett is author of the biography Ian Fleming, published by Phoenix, priced £10.99, which will be rereleased in paperback this autumn.
I WAS A BOND GIRL, TOO… BUT JUDI REALLY IS THE BEST
By Madeline Smith
I think I may be Judi Dench’s number one fan, and not just for the subtle way in which she enhances every Bond fi lm in which she appears.
She first inspired my teenage self in the early 1960s when she starred in the West End with the Ians, McShane and McKellen. It was a highlypolitical Russian play called The Promise, not a word of which was understood by me. But I was mesmerised by Judi. She had mouse-coloured pigtails, a sweet round face, and the absolute truth of her performance stole my heart.
Much later, I met her and there was nothing of the haughty star about Judi. My husband, actor David Buck, took me to see her wondrous performance as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the RSC, where they had worked together. Afterwards, we trotted to her dressing room to congratulate her. She had laryngitis but embraced me warmly. She remembered David with affection despite an interval of at least 15 years. It is 39 years since I was a Bond girl, in Live And Let Die. It was Roger Moore’s first bed scene and he opened the zip of my dress with his magnetic watch. (In fact, the zipper was opened by the special-effects man, who yanked it down with string while lying between my legs.)
It was a scene enjoyed by the BBC’s Charlie Higson, who is also author of the Young Bond books. He declared it his favourite Bond girl scene on the BBC’s Film 2012 programme. For me, however, Dame Judi is the best.
PICTURES: ALLSTAR/UNITED ARTISTS; ABSOLUTE FILM ARCHIVE; LFI; FLYNET; REX FEATURES
Daily tip from the lady archive
“THERE is great satisfaction to be had in properly ironed garments that look as if they have just come out of the shop window.”The Lady. You Can’t Iron? 19th February, 1953