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Releasing from Bondage, as the Bond girls find feminismReleasing from Bondage, as the Bond girls find feminism

The cinematic “Bond girls” have tended to be male fantasies, but has feminism finally been found with the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films? Jack Yan wonders
photographs from Quantum of Solace by Karen Ballard



Olga Kurylenko as Camille in Quantum of Solace
Ukranian actress Olga Kurylenko as Camille, taking matters into her own hands, in the MGM–Columbia film Quantum of Solace. PHOTO: KAREN BALLARD

Gemma Arterton as Agent Fields in Quantum of Solace
Gemma Arterton, the second Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, playing MI6 agent Strawberry Fields. A new type of Bond girl, or (below) a throwback to the old—set in the honeymoon suite of the Andean Grand Hotel, Bolivia? PHOTOS: KAREN BALLARD

Judi Dench as M in Quantum of Solace
Dame Judi Dench as M, pictured in her office—the first sign, in 1995, that the Bond films had changed their tune about their sexism. PHOTO: KAREN BALLARD



Bond has his suits, his Swiss watch, his Walther pistol and his Aston Martin, but the women are now as difficult to conquer or even understand for him as they are to mere mortal men



Avon’s Bond Girl 007 fragrance as endorsed by Arterton: a sign of independence, or another product that asks women to be seen through male eyes?

Far left: Eva Green, the third actress to play Vesper Lynd on screen, at the première of The Golden Compass. Left: New Bond girl Gemma Arterton, with Marc Jacobs at a Louis Vuitton show.

M (Dame Judi Dench) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) enter Mitchell’s apartment, a scene from Quantum of Solace. PHOTO: KAREN BALLARD

Quantum of Solace opens Friday in the UK and November 14 in the US.

IF YOU WATCH the interviews in various behind-the-scenes extras included with the James Bond DVDs, there are frequent comments from many of the leading ladies—Bond girls, for want of a better term—on how their character is ‘different’. They are Bond’s equals, sometimes counterparts, to Bond.
   These extras were originally promotional TV programmes, getting potential moviegoers excited about the next Bond, and the audience would then go along wondering just how the new Bond woman would be different from the damsel in distress. Jane Seymour’s screaming, one-lover Solitaire was a prime, helpless example in 1973’s Live and Let Die, as Bond has to rescue her from a voodoo ceremony; but visits to the cinema over decades reveal that the typical Bond girl is hardly the independent post-feminist-movement character their actresses promise.
   Diana Rigg, the ill-fated Mrs Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is often held up as the zenith of the Bond women, partly because of the way Peter Hunt directed her, and partly because of her prior reputation as a high-kicking heroine in The Avengers. It becomes somewhat sad when Maryam d’Abo, of 1987’s The Living Daylights, promised in her pre-release interview that hers was a modern Bond woman and that her own preference was Rigg, when she was a cellist who screamed (thankfully) less than Seymour for 007 to rescue her. It is hardly the fault of d’Abo, but even in the 1980s, the Bond woman falls into the realm of the male fantasies of submission and conquest.
   Barbara Broccoli, the producer of the Bond films and the daughter of the original producer who brought 007 to the big screen, says that in fact the Bond girls are ‘feminist icons’. Pussy Galore, she points out, could fly planes; but then, Pussy Galore was a lesbian who goes straight after a snog in a barn from (and presumably sex with) Bond, at least in the film version where her homosexuality is far from apparent.
   Broccoli told The Sunday Telegraph that the early Bond girls were ‘progressive’ and some were ‘sexual predators’, and there is some truth to it. Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball, even points out to Connery’s Bond that despite their love-making she will not turn to the side of good, but she stands out more as an exception than the rule.
   The early films can be defended more readily: Broccoli’s father, the famed Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, and partner Harry Saltzman would never have made Bond a success without following some mainstream thoughts, and pushing (at least for the 1960s) the envelope as far as sexuality was concerned. Ursula Andress’s bikinied Honey Rider in Dr No, the brief glimpse of a naked actress in From Russia with Love (Daniela Bianchi, who played Tania Romanova, has denied it was her), the gold-painted figure of Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger all titillated audiences in the ’60s.
   And that was a lot of it: titillation. The double-entendres of Aki’s ‘I would very much enjoy serving under you,’ uttered to Bond in Roald Dahl’s screenplay of You Only Live Twice, Bond’s ‘I’m on top of the problem’ to Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever and, worst of all, ‘I think he’s attempting re-entry’ in Moonraker became so commonplace in what Pierce Brosnan called ‘the high jinks of Bond’ that it proved to be fertile ground for Mike Myers and the Austin Powers films (and, many decades before, the Columbia Pictures’ adaptations of the Matt Helm books, James Coburn as Derek Flint, and the second attempt in 1967 at Bond creator Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale novel).
   Ironically, by the 1970s, with the feminist movement having gained more momentum, the Bond women suffered from a lack of depth, being caricatures. Barbara Bach’s Major Anya Amasova, a.k.a. Agent XXX (emphatically not Vin Diesel) in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me may be remembered more for her figure. Having vowed to kill Bond mid-way through the film, she winds up sleeping with him prior to the end credits. Lois Chiles, one actress to have appeared in Bond and in Austin Powers, is a CIA agent with a Ph.D., but bearing qualifications does not make her a particularly different Bond woman, who still needs to be rescued by Roger Moore wearing a safari suit.
   One could say that that was the 1970s: the Bond money-making machine seemed to progress when the emphasis was high-camp and escapist, and 1969’s attempt at humanizing Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with Australian George Lazenby in the lead role, proved to be less successful than the other cinematic outings. Depth was out, just as Lazenby was, and Bach happily reached the peak of showing ’70s cleavage in the wake of Britt Ekland, playing a doe-eyed bimbo in The Man with the Golden Gun. The trend continued into the decade with jiggle TV (Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company), not necessarily started by Bond, but certainly part of the Zeitgeist. Benny Hill’s ‘Angels’, decades before Victoria’s Secret’s ones, wore less and less as the disco era reached its height. In all these cases, the premise of showing independent women—or at least women in previously stereotypically male roles—was a pretext for showing the 1960s’ submissive women in more garish fashions with more décolleté.
   Even when the Bond women are given greater responsibilities—the self-employed Octopussy, for example, running a diverse global empire—they wind up following the formula. They can be initially abrasive and emotionally tough—e.g. Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier in 1989’s Licence to Kill, another CIA agent allied with 007—and somehow the producers give the audience the same thing by the end of the film. Bouvier is jealous of her rival, played by Talisa Soto.
   It didn’t get better the next decade. The Brosnan era (1995–2002) saw the formula become even more cartoon-like with Die Another Day, though redeemed in part with Michael Apted’s The World Is Not Enough, where Elektra King (Sophie Marceau)—another businesswoman in the Bond world—is proved to be a seductress who decides when, where and with whom she has sex with. But then the film has Denise Richards in it, a well endowed Bond girl with yet another Ph.D., put in as a token nod to an American audience while her co-stars are Irish, French, Scottish and English. Characters such as Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp, an assassin, in 1995’s Goldeneye are two-dimensional, if relatively well acted.
   Marceau is joined in this era only by Samantha Bond, the last Miss Moneypenny, secretary to M, the head of the Secret Service, who goes less ga-ga than her predecessors over the arrival of and sexual harassment by 007 at the office.
   So while the Bond women have equality as far as their jobs are concerned—even Bond’s boss, M, is now female, played by Dame Judi Dench—sexually, the first 40 years of films placed the majority of them in objectified, submissive roles. Even PM Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown) in For Your Eyes Only begins gushing at a parrot’s request to ‘Give us a kiss’ when she thinks it’s 007 over a radio telephone line.
   Only a few exceptions in the first 40 years of the cinematic Bond—Paluzzi, Rigg and Marceau; to some extent Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only who seduces Bond in the last scene; and Barbara Carrera in the Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again (1983)—suggest that Bond women aren’t submissive, swooning at the sight of the British spy. And to give credit where it is due, since Barbara Broccoli has been producing, the female characters are genuinely stronger.
   Most may look the part of glam goddesses, but then, not many men look like Bond. Model looks are part of the escapism. Some might say the sexism is, too—but will the series survive with it intact? Derek Flint might not survive in 2008, at least not in the world of an actioner. He would have to be a comic character.
   With Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond for 2006’s Casino Royale, Broccoli and half-brother Michael G. Wilson, who co-produces the films, promised fans that they would return the series to the spirit of Fleming. The Bond girl, Vesper Lynd, played by Franco–Swedish actress Eva Green, was promoted from little more than an assistant in the novel to a representative of HM Treasury, and fortunately she has more depth than many other portrayals. She does not succumb to Bond’s charms, even when Bond believes she has; in fact, 007 becomes emotionally scarred both in the novel (with the famous last line, ‘The bitch is dead’) and the film. Sex with Bond does not turn her from being a traitor to Her Majesty’s Government either in the novel or the film. For a woman created in the 1950s, Lynd seems more in tune with the 2000s, far from the character’s previous portrayal—by Dr No’s Andress—who seduces Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble in 1967’s Casino Royale.
   Lynd’s depth is credited to the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Crash, Paul Haggis, who worked on the first screenplay by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Lynd and Bond grow fonder of one another; they find pleasure with each other as their relationship deepens.
   It might be said that Fleming’s Bond women are being translated to the screen more faithfully in some cases. The literary Honey Rider used a spider to kill a man who attempted to rape her; Pussy Galore was more a gangland boss in her own right than a pilot. We may have finally reached an era where it is all right to show complex women, nearly forty years after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the one time before Casino Royale where the director demanded that the screenplay be faithful to the novel and bring emotion to Bond. This was financially concerning then but a financial bonanza today in a more paranoid, post-9-11 fin de décennie. Bond has his suits, his Swiss watch, his Walther pistol and his Aston Martin, but the women are now as difficult to conquer or even understand for him as they are to mere mortal men.
   Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton play the two female leads in the latest Bond adventure, Quantum of Solace. Haggis is again involved in the screenplay and the story continues on from Casino Royale. (The original Quantum of Solace story has little more than Bond at a dinner party initially being frustrated by the other guests, then being told a story by the Governor of Jamaica about a couple’s broken marriage.) Arterton recently appeared in the Life on Mars-meets-Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Lost in Austen, so she is hardly the bimbo type. Kurylenko’s résumé includes L’Annulaire, which won her the Certificate of Excellence as Best Actress at the 2005 Brooklyn International Film Festival, and acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival. Mathieu Amalric, the César-winning actor and director, plays the villain. In short, it doesn’t appear to be another cartoony Bond, which can only harm the franchise at this point if it is to stay relevant in the 21st century.
   Kurylenko’s character, Camille, is out for revenge for the rape and murder of her sister and mother. She has said in interviews that she exists in the script not because of Bond, but because of her own character. Bond doesn’t bed her—they are intertwined in the plot for personal revenge. But Arterton’s character, MI6 agent Fields, Strawberry Fields, seems more simplistic, if her name is anything to go by.
   Avon has finally deemed it appropriate to market a Bond Girl 007 fragrance, something which some women might balk at. Arterton is the face of the advertising. Is Fields the new type of Bond woman, or is she the type that falls for Bond’s charms a little too readily, like the literary Mary Goodnight? And is the fragrance one chosen by women for women, or by women seeing themselves objectified through male eyes?
   Women, if an informal poll at Lucire is indicative, liked the Vesper Lynd character, so the Sisterhood may finally be getting its way after four-and-a-half decades of putting up with male fantasies. Camille shows that Vesper was no lucky one-off. Fields shows that not everything has changed and that the same speculation must exist for “Bond 23” on whether the next film will have a realistic female lead or something more formulaic. •


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From issue 16 of Lucire