The James Bond film franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary with the release of Skyfall on 22 October. Stylist examines how the infamous Bond ‘girls’ have mirrored society’s changing attitudes to women
Ursula Andress’ arrival into the inaugural James Bond film, as shell diver Honey Ryder, became the blueprint for Bond girls to come. She emerged from the sea in a white bikini, dripping independence and unabashed sexuality with a hint of danger (symbolised by the knife at her side). The first official film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s spy saga, Dr No was set against the backdrop of the space race and the Cold War. Modern feminism was in its early infancy and Ryder, who – after her jaw-dropping entrance – is drugged, kidnapped, rescued and succumbs to Bond’s charms, is hardly a driving force. She’s not even the first woman Bond beds, having seduced and promptly ditched Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) earlier in the film. Women were respected in Hollywood if age and ability were on offer (it was the same year Bette Davis and Joan Crawford starred in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?) but young, attractive girls were merely forms of decoration as the 1962 Elvis film Girls! Girls! Girls! attests. Indeed, Andress was cast without auditioning, as the producers were convinced by compelling photography taken by her husband, American director John Derek. Andress’ heavy Swiss accent was dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl – which didn't stop her winning a most-promising newcomer Golden Globe for the role. Andress inspired a huge peak in bikini sales and went on to pose nude for Playboy in 1965. When asked why, she simply responded, “Because I’m beautiful.”
A criminal associate of Auric Goldfinger, a lesbian, a pilot and the leader of an all-girl aviation group, Galore is a progressive, impressive female force – reflecting a focus on women’s roles following the publication of Betty Friedan’s massively influential The Feminine Mystique (credited with kicking off the second wave of feminism). But even though Galore insists she’s not interested, Bond forces her into submission and sex. She is turned, betraying Goldfinger, any implicit Sapphic tendencies and the idea that a woman could ever be a match for the mighty Bond.
Four years after Bond’s one and only wife is quickly shot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Gloria Hendry became the first black girl to engage romantically with Bond. While this was the year the US’s National Black Feminist Organization held their first conference, Carver’s introduction was hardly a paragon of racial or sexual progress. The character is a low-calibre double agent who Bond seduces, threatens, and is later shot dead. She’s not even Bond’s main squeeze, which fell to Jane Seymour as virginal psychic Solitaire. A real missed opportunity.
“Let free enterprise fight back now,” said Margaret Thatcher four years before she became the UK’s first female prime minister. Maud Adams’s Octopussy, wouldn’t have disagreed. She was an independently wealthy cult leader, with cheekbones Joan Collins would kill for, and her own island populated by women. Outlandish perhaps, this was the sixth outing for Roger Moore – a sumptuous celebration of treasures, riches and opulence, giving a quiet nod to 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark and set against a backdrop of exotic India in an era when Britain’s colonial past was still a talking point. It was a part originally intended for an east Indian actress but Octopussy’s back-story was changed to make her European. Octopussy and her band of red Lycra-clad acrobats are a powerful sisterhood who first foil Bond then join forces with him using their wiles – resourceful, feminine and agile – to overcome a fortress and disarm a nuclear warhead. The name ‘Octopussy’ itself speaks of a devouring, dangerous sexuality. Of course Bond gets his girl, with plenty of half-dressed lovelies to boot. “007 on an island populated exclusively by women?” says Q. “We won’t see him till dawn!”
Thatcher had been re-elected for a third term and women were enjoying a new professional freedom. Free love, however was over, and the Aids panic was building to a crescendo. Enter Timothy Dalton, who pledged to play a Bond who, this time around, was monogamous – it was felt by the producers that sexual proclivity at such a time might be a touch irresponsible. 007’s match was former model Maryam d’Abo as Czech cellist Kara Milovy. For Bond, she’s a relationship, not a conquest, a woman he takes time to romance (horse-drawn carriage, roller coaster, night at the opera, etc). Slight, soft-featured Milovy swaps sass and sexuality for sweetness and vulnerability – and by that read gullibility. She may begin the film as an assassin and Bond’s mark but we quickly discover she’s been tricked by her boyfriend, then Bond, then by her boyfriend again. A romantised version of the fairer sex as a loyal partner for the new Bond, a man who needs a decent meal at the end of a mission.
“You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,” slams Judi Dench, as the first female M, establishing a new relationship with a Bond searching to find a place in a changing society. By 1995, an all-powerful patriarchy aided by pliant sex kittens while rescuing helpless damsels was never going to cut it. Dench is more than Bond’s equal – she’s Bond’s boss, and she doesn't fancy him. They lock horns and eventually reach an understanding and a level of mutual respect. Bond is no reformed character – he’s still pursuing beauties – but this time it’s ironic.
In the year Obama became the first black US president, the world entered recession and so too came another game-changing phenomenon: a Bond girl who doesn’t have sex with Bond. Grief-stricken and bent on revenge after the murder of her mother and sister, Montes exists in her own right outside of Bond. “I’m very happy and proud that she didn’t sleep with him,” says Russian Kurylenko. Montes manages to save the world with Bond and part with only a kiss.
At the time of going to print, we didn't even know Naomie Harris’ character’s last name, so secretive is the latest film. The suggestion is she’s playing Moneypenny, the secretary who, in the earlier Bond films, simpers and pines after Bond. However, with Harris’ two months of combat training, it’s hard to believe Eve will just be doing paperwork. A female agent to match Bond’? Let’s hope so.