We might never get a female James Bond, but we are getting Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Now, thanks to some recent comments from Daniel Craig, we know just how much she has contributed to the 25th 007 film No Time To Die.
That’s it – it’s confirmed. We’re never going to get a female James Bond.
Speaking from Jamaica in April 2019, where Daniel Craig was at that time sipping shaken, not stirred vodka martinis filming No Time To Die, his fifth – and his final – installment of the Bond franchise, producer Barbara Broccoli said that the secret agent would never be played by a woman. We are, however, going to get some form of a female 007 in No Time To Die, as in, there’ll be a woman who takes over Bond’s iconic MI6 codename – and she’ll be played by Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch – but that’s not really the same, is it?
“I always feel that Bond is a male character, that is just a fact,” Broccoli explained during an interview with Good Morning Britain. “We have to make movies about women and women’s stories, but we have to create female characters and not just for a gimmick turn a male character into a woman.”
Broccoli, whose father Arthur created Eon Productions, the company responsible for the James Bond franchise, is the woman behind both Craig and Pierce Brosnan’s iterations of the series. And though small gains have been made in each of them towards ushering in a more feminist voice, from having a female M, played by Judi Dench, to an age-appropriate Bond Woman (Monica Belluci in Spectre), the franchise has remained steadfastly and, in many ways, disappointingly male.
So, despite a sizeable – and vocal – group clamouring so loud for a female James Bond you’d be hard-pressed to miss it, we won’t be getting one. But what we are getting is Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
The actor and writer has been drafted in, at the express request of Craig himself, to make a sizeable contribution to the final script of No Time To Die. Waller-Bridge has an official screenwriter credit, which means that her contributions have to tally at least 33% of the final shooting script, in accordance with Writers Guild of America regulations. In other words, at least a third of the dialogue, tone, characterisation and scenes of the final film will be fresh from the mind of the genius behind Fleabag and Killing Eve.
In GQ’s April 2020 issue, on newstands just days after it was announced that No Time To Die would be delayed from its planned April theatrical release to November because of the coronavirus crisis, Craig went into detail about Waller-Bridge’s contributions.
“How much of Phoebe is in there, who knows?” Craig told GQ. “We’re all in it somewhere. Phoebe’s in it, Cary’s in it, the writers are in it, but it’s a… We battled it and battled it and battled it. Who knows?” he said. “I’m talking to you now. I’ve seen bits of it. I haven’t seen it. Who the fuck knows?” (Later, after he had finally seen the film, he told GQ: “I think it works… So hallelujah.”)
“It was Daniel’s idea, we all leapt at it, we loved her,” Broccoli said, of Waller-Bridge coming on board. “She has made a great contribution to it.”
“Why shouldn’t we get Phoebe onto Bond?” Craig told The Sunday Times in November 2019. “That’s the answer to that… She’s a fucking great writer. One of the best English writers around. I said, ‘Can we get her on the film?’ That’s where I came from.”
According to GQ, Craig wasn’t always a pleasure to work with in the No Time To Die writers’ room. “I’ve been very forceful in meetings and often way too blunt and probably completely rude,” he said. “But I’m like, ‘We’re here! Come on!’ And I always say sorry.”
For Waller-Bridge, though, it was understandable. “He is incredibly passionate about the work,” she told GQ. “Bond is very close to his heart and he fights for the integrity of the character every step of the way.”
Waller-Bridge is only the second woman in the history of the Bond franchise to get an official screenwriter credit. The first was Johanna Harwood, an Irish writer who wrote Dr No and From Russia With Love – two of the best Bond movies, stuffed to the brim with iconic scenes – and who worked on the script of Goldfinger but went uncredited.
Also uncredited for her work on a James Bond movie is Dana Stevens, who did a rewrite of Brosnan’s The World Is Not Enough in order to strengthen the female roles in the film. How much of her work ended up being used, though, is up for debate. After all, The World Is Not Enough is the movie that contains a female character called Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), whose nomenclature exists purely for the purpose of Bond making the joke that you think he would make.
Waller-Bridge joining the Bond franchise is cause for serious celebration, in that finally this series is going to get the female voice that it so desperately needs in a post-#MeToo era.
The early signs are boding well. Returning cast members Naomie Harris and Léa Seydoux are leading the movie alongside Knives Out and Blade Runner 2049’s Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch, last seen as Captain Marvel’s enterprising best friend in Captain Marvel. (Rami Malek will play the villain.) If rumours are to be believed their characters, called Paloma and Nomi respectively, are sizeable ones, a CIA agent based in Cuba and a MI6 professional snapping at 007’s heels. Their inclusion reflects the need for the film to feature nuanced female characters driving the plot forward, as opposed to thoroughly male gaze-oriented eye candy, as the franchise has blunderingly erred towards in the past.
We know this, because Waller-Bridge is in charge, alongside Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – longterm Bond screenwriters – and Scott Purvis, an ex-Bourne scribe and the writer of this year’s Sundance-lauded CIA interrogation thriller The Report. What Waller-Bridge is going to bring to the table is humour, wit, style and an eye for the human in everything from M&S tinnies to mille-feuille Molly Goddard dresses.
Certainly, the female stars of No Time To Die have nothing but praise for Waller-Bridge’s work. “I saw Phoebe and I just blushed,” de Armas told The Hollywood Reporter. “I got red like a tomato. I was like, ‘Oh my God, can I hug you? I want to be your friend.”
Lynch’s response when learning Waller-Bridge was writing the script? “I very literally squealed when I first heard her name,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in November 2019. “I though, ‘Oh my gosh, British girl just like me. She’s going to know how to actually take care of women onscreen.”
Both women revealed to the magazine just how involved Waller-Bridge was in crafting their onscreen personas. Lynch says that she worked closely with Fukunaga and Waller-Bridge to ensure that her character felt like something completely fresh for the franchise. “I didn’t want someone who was slick,” Lynch told The Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted someone who was rough around the edges and who has a past and a history and has issues with her weight and maybe questions what’s going on with her boyfriend.”
She also wanted to include a first for the Bond franchise: sanitary products. “We had one conversation about her maybe being on her period in one scene,” Lynch said. “And maybe at the beginning of the scene – and I spoke to Cary about this – throwing her tampon in the [bin].”
As de Armas put it: “It’s pretty obvious that there is an evolution in the fact that Lashana is one of the main characters in the film and wears the pants — literally. I wear the gown. She wears the pants.”
De Armas told Vanity Fair in February 2020 that her character had been entirely written by Waller-Bridge, who made sure the part was “a real woman”. “You could… tell that Phoebe was in there,” de Armas told the magazine. “There was that humour and spikiness so specific to her. My character feels like a real woman. But you know, we can evolve and grow and incorporate reality, but Bond is a fantasy. In the end you can’t take things out of where they live.”
De Armas said her character, which has mostly remained a mystery but can be glimpsed in the trailer firing guns and fighting off an assailant, is a newcomer to the CIA who impresses Bond with her strength. She said, “The expectation is that she’s not going to be the most proficient agent, but let’s just say that she really packs a punch.”
Are you surprised? Waller-Bridge would never write a Bond Girl like Man With The Golden Gun’s blundering Mary Goodnight. She would never write a Bond Girl as problematic as, deep sigh, Kissy Suzuki from You Only Live Twice. (Let this be a reminder that You Only Live Twice features an egregious moment of yellowface.) No Christmas Joneses, no Solitaires, no Holly Goodheads.
Let’s face it – Waller-Bridge would never write a Bond Girl period. Even Craig is over the concept. “I don’t even call them Bond girls,” he told Vanity Fair. “I’m not going to deny it to anybody else. It’s just I can’t have a sensible conversation with somebody if we’re talking about ‘Bond girls.’”
What we’re hopefully going to see in No Time To Die is a move away from the restrictive, sexist Bond Girl archetype and towards something completely new when it comes to the female characters.
Something like Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, whose fly-kicking secret agent is one of the series’ best female characters. Something like Diana Rigg’s Tracy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, who managed to overcome her character’s fridging to imbue her role as Bond’s one and only wife with emotion and gravitas.
Something like, well, like Villanelle.
No Time To Die will be in cinemas on 12 November.
Images: Getty, BBC