To Bond or not to Bond? The acclaimed Shakespearean stage actress and British film star Dame Judi Dench, who very briefly reprised her role as 007’s MI6 boss ‘M’ in Spectre, spent 60 minutes being interviewed before an audience at The China Exchange on Wednesday, 7th June, and – at one point – said that she thought Daniel Craig may do another Bond film, but hasn’t decided whether or not to do so.

Dame Judi was interviewed live on stage for an hour by Sir David Tang, in a session entitled ‘An Evening with Dame Judi Dench’, as part of a series of interviews with stars arranged by The China Exchange in London, in conjunction with the Prudential Insurance Company. And, naturally, the JBIFC had a spy on the ground at the sell-out event.

In a wide-ranging interview, the former ‘M’ was quizzed about both her long career in theatre, her philosophy about life, and her eventual ‘breakthrough’ into cinema with the award-winning Mrs. Brown (1997), the film that she felt took her career in a new direction.

Dame Judi also confirmed that she is going to reign again as Queen Victoria in the new film Victoria and Abdul, which will be released this coming September, two decades after she first portrayed Britain’s nineteenth century monarch in Mrs. Brown. Her performance as Victoria in that particular film (released the same year she played ‘M’ for a second time in Tomorrow Never Dies) received high praise from the critics, and helped her win both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe Award, together with a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars. She revealed that the film was originally made for television only, but that the Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein saw it and became convinced that it deserved a cinema release and a much wider audience.

From ‘M’ With Love

During the course of her 60-minute interview with Sir David Tang, a large part of which involved her responding to questions from the audience, Dame Judi was inevitably asked about her time as MI6’s boss, a role she held for 17 years and seven films (or eight in reality, because – as she pointed out – she ‘did a morning’ on Spectre). She said: ‘I did enjoy playing ‘M’ a great, great deal’.

Her first 007 movie as ‘M’, of course, was Goldeneye (1995), opposite Pierce Brosnan, a role that she was strongly encouraged to take by her late husband, Michael (who was something of a Bond fan). She told the audience that she was ‘very overawed’ when she was invited to play ‘M’, but when she was asked about her motivation for accepting the role she joked that ‘my husband said “you have got to do it, because I long to live with a Bond woman”!’ She added that her grandson and his friends had also been very excited about her playing the role of Bond’s boss. She also commented that, on the first day of shooting Goldeneye, she did not know who was more nervous, Pierce or her. Concerning the role overall, though, she repeated that: ‘I am very, very pleased I did it’.

Interestingly, despite the claims of various commentators in the past, Dame Judi firmly denied that her interpretation of the role of ‘M’ was based on Stella Rimmington, the first female head of the Security Service MI5.

But she did confirm that she had had some dealings with real-life intelligence officers: ‘I did meet with MI6’. She said that she went to a ‘wonderful lunch’ at what she called the ‘lego’ MI6 building at Vauxhall, where she met Sir David Spedding, who was head of MI6 at the time, and five other intelligence officers.

Bond… James Bond

When asked which Bond she preferred, Pierce or Daniel, Dame Judi made it very clear that this was a very unfair question, as ‘they are totally different people – completely different’.

And on the topic of Bond today, when she was asked who she would like to see Daniel Craig replaced by, Dame Judi said she didn’t know and that she thought that ‘maybe he’ll do another. I don’t think he’s decided whether or not to do another’. She added that the role carried an ‘unbelievable responsibility’.

Similarly, when asked whether there would be a ‘female Bond’ in the future, Dame Judi made it very evident what she thought of such a question: ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I know that’s very fashionable’.

From ‘M’ to ‘V’

Her reprisal of the role of Queen Victoria in the past year again illustrates Dame Judi’s strong desire to keep working, despite some further deterioration in her eyesight, something she touched on during the interview with Sir David. The new movie, which is based on a book by Shrabani Basu and has a screenplay by Lee Hall, and is directed by Stephen Frears, started shooting in September, 2016, and included about six weeks at Victoria’s real-life residence on the Isle of Wight, which Dame Judi said had helped forge a real sense of community among the cast, reminiscent of the kind of bond that often develops in a theatre company.

But she was reluctant to go into any detail about the plot, teasing the audience that they would have to go and see the movie. As far as she is concerned, though, the film is very faithful to the real events that occurred when the monarch was in her eighties.

All in all, Dame Judi was in top form during the course of the evening, and it was obvious that she thoroughly enjoyed talking about her highly successful approach to acting. Long may she reign.

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench

Dame Judi ‘M’ Dench with 007 Daniel Craig in Casino Royale