Secret agent James Bond is known for his banter, one-night stands and chauvinistic attitude to the women around him. Emerald Street editor Anna Fielding watched Skyfall and asks if a feminist can ever enjoy a Bond film.
Skyfall is the 23rd film in the Bond series and opens in a classic 007 fashion with a huge action-packed set piece. There are motorbikes crashing through windows and chasing over rooftops, fights on top of trains, a bit with a JCB. Female agent Eve, played by Naomie Harris, puts her foot down and slams a four-wheel drive through Istanbul, a teeming mega-city of 13.5 million people. Unsurprisingly she loses a wing mirror. Then another one. There’s an opportunity for a joke there. You imagine all the previous Bonds raising one eyebrow in anticipation. But it doesn’t happen, it’s just not there. Daniel Craig’s Bond does not make a crack about women drivers. Not so classically 007 after all.
Historically the Bond franchise has always implied that a women’s place is in the bedroom. James is a serial shagger and comes across as either a cheeseball or an oaf when it comes to seduction. A significant amount of his sexual partners end up dead. On the one occasion he marries (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) his wife also dies. Those who live are rarely seen again, unless they’re evil double agents. They also have demeaning names like Honey Rider, Pussy Galore or Octopussy. However much you may have enjoyed the action and the camp and the cunning gadgets, the feminist part of you always cringed and knew there wasn’t really a permanent place for you in the Bond universe. Men can fantasise about being 007, but Moneypenny’s secretarial role just isn’t so appealing.
For the very first time Bond's main lady is a mentor not a lover.
Then something changed and Bond got a female boss. M, the head of secret intelligence service MI6, was played by Judi Dench in 1995’s GoldenEye. At that point Stella Rimington had been the real-life director of MI5 for three years. Rimington retired from service a year after GoldenEye, but Dench’s M carried straight on. She’s still in place in Skyfall and her story is the central one. For the very first time Bond’s main lady is a mentor, not a lover. The M character has always been grouchy and in Dench’s hands this does take a slightly maternal air. “Where the bloody hell have you been?” she snaps as her agent returns from the dead, the light catching on her matched set of grey pearls. The motherly aspects don’t override any sense of her as a ruthless professional though. Bond only ever refers to her as ma’am, whereas Javier Bardem’s fantastically eccentric villain Raoul Silva freely uses Mummy and makes a patronising joke about her height. We’re rooting for Bond and so, in Skyfall, we have respect for M.
Director Sam Mendes may as well have sounded a klaxon at the start of the scene and shouted 'Hetro ladies! Choose your poison!
The implausible sexiness of the Bond girls is often mentioned too (“Oh come on,” you shout at the screen. “How many nuclear physicists look like that?”), but isn’t it equally ridiculous to assume beautiful women are stupid? In the Bond universe almost everyone is good-looking. It’s a lovely, glossy fantasy: the locations are luxurious, the technology is sleek, and the bar for human attractiveness is higher. There’s a scene in Skyfall where Bond meets the latest person to fill the boffin-y Q role. Daniel Craig sits side-by-side with Ben Whishaw, playing Q. Craig is muscled, blond and rumpled: a man of action. Whishaw has dark hair flopping over one eye, horn-rimmed glasses and a deliciously-shaped mouth: a boy with brains. Director Sam Mendes may as well have sounded a klaxon at the start of the scene and shouted “Hetro ladies! Choose your poison!” Compare this with any of the adaptations of John Le Carre’s spy books, where some are good-looking and some are not. A friend who worked in the Foreign Office said you could spot the spooks as they always scanned meeting rooms for exits and never introduced themselves with a job title, but that outside of the FCO building it was tougher. They cultivated an air of averageness. Real spies are professionals when it comes to blending in. Bond himself is glamorous and unreal, so why should we expect dowdy practicality from the women?
The Bond universe has moved on in many ways (finding Q so attractive was a bit of a surprise), so go and see Skyfall. There’s action and camp and cunning gadgets, but no jokes about women drivers.