The Bond Girl (2006-16)

In my last blog, “The Bond Girl (1962-2002),” I defined the figure as the lead female protagonist who develops an intimate connection with James Bond and ends up in a romantic relationship with him by the end. There is only one Bond Girl proper in each film and I traced three phases of character development: English Partner (1962-69), American Sidekick (1971-89), and Action Hero (1995-2002).

In the current Daniel Craig era, the Bond Girl concept is being reworked. On the one hand, the archetype is deconstructed across (what I have termed with Klaus Dodds as) the orphan origin trilogy – Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012). This opens up space for the emergence of outlier women as lead protagonists in the series. On the other hand, the archetype is reconstructed in Spectre (2016) with the character Dr. Madeleine Swann, who serves as the first Bond Girl proper in the Craig era. This post will briefly discuss the ways in which the Bond Girl concept is being reworked across the Craig era. For a detailed analysis, see my article “Reworking the Bond Girl Concept in the Craig Era.”

Deconstruction

Casino Royale serves as a prequel and effectively reboots the James Bond franchise. The film deconstructs many core elements of the Bond brand and gradually reintroduces them across the orphan origin trilogy. As a result, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall are revisionist films (i.e. retellings of a well-known narrative with significant variations of core elements) while Spectre is reversionist (i.e. a return to established conventions/elements). For a detailed discussion of these shifting dynamics, see my book with Klaus Dodds Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond (2017).

Across the orphan origin trilogy, the qualities typically associated with the Bond Girl are divided between at least 2 characters in each film. In Casino Royale, they are split between Vesper Lynd and James Bond. It is Bond and not Lynd who is envisaged through notable Bond Girl iconography (or visual codes) as he emerges from the sea twice in a bathing suit. These moments recall the introduction of quintessential Bond Girl Honey Ryder in Dr No (1962) as well as the homage to this scene in Die Another Day (2002) with Jinx Johnson. In Casino Royale, it is Solange Dimitrios and later Vesper Lynd who watch Bond from the shore with the camera sharing their points-of-view effectively reversing the male gaze (see my last blog for a description) and establishing a female one.

Vesper Lynd also distances herself from qualities/roles associated with the Bond Girl. For instance, she refuses to be paraded around during the poker match unlike Valenka and Solange who serve as visual distractions. Lynd rejects the undercover identity suggested by Bond, Stephanie Broadchest, which relies on a double entendre for the name. In addition, Lynd holds her cards close to her vest and is not clearly in Bond’s corner in the film. In fact, she works against Bond at various points and is (somewhat) aligned, albeit by threat/force, with the villain. She is arguably the most complicated and multifaceted female character who colors outside of the lines of the Bond Girl archetype. This is what makes her such a compelling figure (and a favorite of students in my Gender and James Bond course).

In Quantum of Solace, the qualities typically associated with the Bond Girl are divided between the late Vesper Lynd and Camille Montes. Although Lynd is dead, her memory looms large in the film. Bond is love sick over her death and he gets drunk on Vesper martinis in order to consume her. The Vesper theme is played throughout the film whenever Bond is thinking of her. Moreover, he holds on to the Algerian knot necklace she wore throughout Casino Royale until he gets resolution at the end of the sequel. Taken together, these elements convey the impression that Bond is still in love with Lynd.

As a result, Bond does not develop a romantic/sexual connection with Camille Montes. Instead, the pair work together platonically because their individual goals align. Montes is on her own quest for revenge to kill the man who murdered her family and Bond assists her in her plight. The film ends with the characters parting ways. Although Bond and Montes kiss, she recognizes that Bond cannot love her (as he is still in love with Lynd) and she chooses to walk away from him. This is arguably the most feminist ending of a Bond film.

This moment also recalls the ending of the novel Moonraker (1955) whereby Gala Brand rejects Bond’s offer to run away with him because she engaged to another man. Fleming writes of Bond’s reaction to the rejection, “And now what? wondered Bond. He shrugged his shoulders to shift the pain of failure – the pain of failure that is so much greater than the pleasure of success. An exit line. He must get out of these two young lives and take his cold heart elsewhere. There must be no regrets. No false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette.” (244) While the novel ends on a (melo)dramatic note, the film ends with Bond finding Lynd’s former lover and finally getting closure.

Finally in Skyfall, the Bond Girl concept is used as a red herring (i.e. intentionally misleading or distracting) to introduce three women. First, although the film opens with Eve being presented as Bond’s partner in the field, she is disciplined and demoted after accidentally shooting him (on the order of M). She continues to support him on missions but their ‘close shave’ does not result in a sexual/romantic scenario. Eventually it is revealed that Eve is Miss Moneypenny when she takes up the role of personal assistant to Fiennes’ M.

The film also introduces Severine in the familiar role of ‘kept woman’ to the male villain Raoul Silva (like Domino Derval to Emilio Largo in Thunderball [1965]). Skyfall relies on problematic stereotypes for Asian women to frame her character (see my article “Objects of White Male Desire“) and Severine is increasingly disempowered across her brief time on screen. After revealing her troubling backstory of being forced into sex work, Bond agrees to kill her captor Silva and seals the deal with more than just a kiss; he walks in on Severine showering and their sex scene feels exploitative given her recent revelations to Bond about her history with sexual violence/violation. Severine is then used for target practice and after Silva shoots her in the head Bond laments on the loss of good scotch (rather than her life). This renders Severine one of the most tragic and disempowered women across the franchise.

If the Bond Girl is defined as the character who develops the strongest intimate relationship with Bond, then Judi Dench’s M tops the list in Skyfall; Dench’s M is the woman Bond loves the most, albeit maternally. Bond goes to great lengths to safeguard M including hiding her in his childhood home in Scotland. M is also likened to Queen Elizabeth II throughout the film. This conveys the impression that Bond remains loyal to his first true love, Britain, as personified by M. And much like the other women he has truly loved in the past, like Tracy DiVicenzo in OHMSS (1969) and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006), M is destined to die.  

The dispersion of qualities associated with the Bond Girl across two or more characters in each film opens up space for outlier women in the franchise. These lead female protagonists—Vesper Lynd, Camille Montes, and Dench’s M—are more developed, multifaceted, and compelling than their predecessors. Moreover, their films do not end with a sexual/romantic scenario and cliché romance (which at times feels forced). Instead, the orphan origin trilogy centers on outlier women who move beyond the archetype.  

Reconstruction

As previously noted, Spectre is a reversionist film that presents a return to more established conventions and re-roots the Bond franchise in the gender politics of previous eras. The film also ushers in the return of the first Bond Girl proper in the Craig era, Dr. Madeleine Swann, who fits all the criteria of the archetype.

Swann serves as a composite of familiar Bond Girl elements. For instance, like Tracy DiVicenzo in OHMSS (1969), she is in conflict with her criminal father who makes a deal with Bond to protect her. Like Dr. Holly Goodhead in Moonraker (1979), she is an intelligent professional woman who reluctantly works with Bond. Like Stacey Sutton in A View to a Kill (1985), Bond is attracted to her youthful innocence and wants to protect her. Like Natalya Simonova in GoldenEye (1995), she is headstrong and willing to jump into a physical conflict to help Bond. And the list goes on. There is something very familiar about Swann and her character is reversionist in the way that it pulls from the well known images, qualities, experiences, and narratives of previous Bond Girls.

The character of Swann also draws inspiration from the outlier women of the orphan origin trilogy and Spectre reworks some of the scenarios featured in these films. For instance, the film reinstitutes the male gaze (from the female one established in Casino Royale) when Bond watches Swann (dressed in a seafoam green dress) enter into dining car with the viewer sharing his point of view. Unlike Quantum of Solace, Bond is able to eventually win the love of the female protagonist who has walked away from him. Finally, Bond is able to save the woman he loves (unlike the ending of Skyfall) who just so happens to be locked in M’s office. Spectre offers a heroic ‘re-do’ for Bond and he returns to a more familiar role as lover and romantic hero to his Bond Girl, Swann.

Given that the trailers for No Time To Die (2020) feature the return of Swann, it will be interesting to see how her relationship with Bond plays out. We are entering into uncharted territory with the return of a Bond Girl and it is unclear if the film will be revisionist, reversionist, or something else entirely (I am hoping for the latter). If history tells us anything, it is that marriage or at the very least long-term romantic relationships are not sustainable in the Bond franchise; they divide the loyalty of the hero between his family and sense of duty. In fact, when Bond has fallen in love in the past (in OHMSS and Casino Royale), he has resigned from the service only to mourn the tragic death of his lover. He then recommits the service and the Bond saga carries on. I am looking forward to seeing further development of the Bond Girl concept and hopefully a scenario that does not entail the death of yet another woman to prompt the return of special agent James Bond back into action.

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