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.”
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 ). 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.
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.
The “Bond Girl” is a staple of the Bond series and has strongly contributed to the global appeal of the franchise. In popular discourse, the term “Bond Girl” has been overused and frequently applied to virtually every woman who has appeared in a Bond film regardless of their role or centrality to the narrative. There is a difference between a primary character and a secondary figure who may or may not (be important enough to) be named. Additionally, female protagonists are conceptualized, cast, and treated differently in their narratives than their villainous counterparts (see my blog series on “Feminism and Female Villainy” for details). The overuse of the term “Bond Girl” is one reason why women in the Bond franchise have been overlooked (particularly in academic scholarship at least in the fields within which I work) and quickly written off as window-dressings and sexy pin-ups.
In his novels, Ian Fleming used the term “girl” to refer to the female love interest of Bond. His moniker has been expanded into the term “Bond Girl” which is now widely used in social and academic circles. However, there are many people who find the term problematic or at the very least feel uncomfortable using it, including myself.
First, the use of the word “girl” to refer to professional women works to infantilize them, diminish their accomplishments, and reduce their importance in the film. (A similar argument can be made about the use of double entendres for names. Can we take a pilot named Pussy Galore or a scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead seriously? These names ensure that we do not and detract from their abilities and accomplishments in their films). The term “girl” also works to emphasize their single status with “woman” being reserved in the series for marriage and maternity. Much like the term “boy” can be used to insult a man – as demonstrated by Sheriff Pepper in Live and Let Die (1973) – the same is true for the term “girl” when it is used to describe adult professional women. Importantly, men in the series are not referred to as “boys.” Allies like Felix Leiter, villains like Blofeld, and henchpeople like Jaws are not described as being “Bond Boys.” So why then do we refer to adult women as “girls”?
In addition, the inclusion of the word “Bond” before “Girl” tells us that the woman is being (solely) defined by her relationship with Bond. She does not have an individual or standalone identity. It also suggests a level of possession – that she is Bond’s girl – and will be positioned as an object (not subject) of struggle between Bond and his male adversary.
There are many people – fans, critics, and scholars – who are uncomfortable with the term Bond Girl. In addition, some women who have been featured in the Bond series have also expressed their distaste for the term, Monica Bellucci being the most notable. Rumor has it that the term was banned from the set of the upcoming Bond film No Times To Die with the instruction that female actors should be referred to as “Bond women” instead. While it is difficult to avoid using the term “Bond Girl” due to its cultural pervasiveness – it has been around for nearly 60 years and has become ingrained in social and academic discourse – we need to be mindful of the messages being conveyed through the term about gender, sexuality, identity, and power.
In this blog, I will use the term to refer to the archetype but also employ other descriptors like female protagonist and Bond women in order to reduce its frequency of use.
It is important that we define and clarify the term Bond Girl in order to untangle the web of women who appear across the franchise and better understand the form and function of the lead protagonist in a Bond film. The term refers to a character archetype. She is not a recurring character (i.e. she only appears in one film) but a recurring character type. Each Bond film features a different female protagonist who is played by a different actor. While Bond interacts sexually with various women in each film, he commits himself to the lead heroine by the end of the narrative. They engage in a monogamous and committed relationship (that has ended by the start of the next Bond film). Given this definition, there can only be one “true” Bond Girl in each film.
The Bond Girl is also a “good” character who assists Bond in some way with his mission. Some women play more central and direct roles than others. While some offer physical help, others provide intellectual assistance, and/or emotional support/motivation. The degree of heroism ranges and seems to depend on when the film was made as well as the star persona and performance abilities of the actor playing the role.
There haven been three character phases for the Bond Girl:
* English Partner (1962-69)
* American Sidekick (1971-89)
* Action Hero (1995-2002)
I will discuss the deconstruction and reintroduction of the Bond Girl archetype across the Craig era films in my next blog.
English Partner (1962-69)
The first character phase of the Bond Girl is the English Partner. The Bond films of the 1960s mirror the male-female partnership featured in The Avengers (1961-69), a popular British spy television series centered on a male-female heroic duo. The character John Steed was partnered with a female hero and two of these women were subsequently featured in Bond films: Honor Blackman played Dr. Cathy Gale (1962-64) and Diana Rigg played Emma Peel (1965-67).
The English Partner was often anglicized. On the one hand, Blackman who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964) and Rigg who played Tracy DiVicenzo/Bond in OHMSS (1969) used their own voices and natural English accents. On the other hand, the voices of other female protagonists in the 1960s – Honey Ryder in Dr No (1962), Domino Derval in Thunderball (1965) and Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice (1967) – were dubbed in post-production by Monica van der Zyl. The only exception is Tatiana Romanova in From Russia with Love (1963) whose voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford. Thus, the female protagonists frequently spoke with an English accent (hence the label “English Partner”) and many of them spoke with the very same voice regardless of the nationality of the actor or the character. This is one reason why my students find it difficult to determine the nationality of female protagonists in the Connery and Lazenby eras based on voice/accent alone!
As noted in my first blog post on “Feminism and Female Villainy,” the imaging conventions for 1960s Bond Girls reflects Ian Fleming’s character design of the “girl” in his Bond novels. These women have blonde, brown or black hair, with red hair being reserved for the villains: in the novels it was used in the description of male villains but in the films it was reserved for the female ones.
Things began to change with the final English Partner, Tracy DiVicenzo in OHMSS (1969), and the first American Sidekick (see description below), Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). They both have red hair. This change anticipates/highlights a broader shift in the representation of the figure. Often in film, a change in image signals a shift in characterization. In other words, internal changes are depicted externally and often through visual conventions like costuming and hair. (The film Thelma and Louise  offers a good example of this).
In fact, Diamonds Are Forever explicitly plays with this imaging/hair convention during the introduction of Tiffany Case. She first appears as a blonde, then a brunette, and finally emerges with her natural red hair and remains this way for the remainder of the film. This play on hair color offers a way to visually connect the women of the past (i.e. the English Partners of 1960s) from those of the future (i.e. the American Sidekicks of the 1970s).
American Sidekick (1971-89)
The second character phase for the figure is American Sidekick. Over a two-decade period from 1971 to 1989, many female protagonists were American agents or allies as well as the actors who portrayed them. The American Sidekick embodies American interests in the film and she even replaces Felix Leiter as Bond’s American connection. In fact, when a female CIA appears in a Bond film, Leiter is absent. The only exception is Licence to Kill (1989) in which Pam Bouvier replaces Leiter as Bond’s American sidekick after he is attacked by Frank Sanchez.
In the case of the American Sidekick, the Bond films re-frame the British and American geopolitical relationship via romance. This changes the dynamic by tapping into traditional gender roles. Bond seems inclined to one-up his American Sidekick in order to demonstrate that he is the superior agent. This in turn influences the perception of British and American relations in the films. For a detailed discussion, see my article with Klaus Dodds on “The Anglo-American Connection: Examining the Connection of Nationality with Class, Gender and Race in the James Bond Films.”
Overall, in the first three decades of the franchise, Bond Girls play more supportive roles in their films. It is not an equal weighted partnership and Bond still does the majority of the heroic labor in the film. She is not presented as being a co-hero or heroic equal, and at times she does not even engage in the space of physical action. Instead, English Partners and American Sidekicks serve more as love interests and mediators of threat. In other words, a threat to them propels Bond into action. At the end of the day, it is Bond (oftentimes alone) who is the hero and saves the day.
Action Hero Bond Girl (1995-2002)
The third phase for the Bond Girl is the Action Hero. She appears in the Brosnan era films which are more action oriented than their predecessors and reflect the rise of blockbuster action filmmaking (as well as female action heroism) in Hollywood. In the Brosnan era, Bond is presented more as of a man of action than a lover and the role of the Bond Girl seems to adjusted in a similar way.
As an Action Hero, the female protagonist plays a central role in the narrative and is (far) more active and engaged in the space of physical action. She is largely presented as being a co-hero to James Bond. Pam Bouvier in the final Timothy Dalton film Licence to Kill (1989) is a good precursor to this shift as she is more action inclined and takes part in the heroic labor. Women in the Bronsnan era seem to more forward from there.
The Action Hero is presented as more of an equal to Bond. She may question or challenge his authority, disagree with his plan and suggest a new one, or even take the lead and Bond follows her. She takes more initiative and works with rather than for Bond. Natalya Simonova clearly establishes this dynamic in GoldenEye (1995).
The shift towards more action-oriented women is notable through casting. Two actors featured as Bond Girls had great star power with notable action film credentials. Michelle Yeoh was a bonafide action superstar across East and Southeast Asia prior to her casting in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Halle Berry had also starred (and has conintued to be featured) in Hollywood action films prior to her casting in Die Another Day (2002). Overall, these Bond women are far more action-oriented than their predecessors.
For example, Michelle Yeoh performed her own stunts in Tomorrow Never Dies. She even brought her own action choreographer and stunt team from Hong Kong. She is the first woman to be featured in her own action sequence and she is even equipped with her own Q-like spy gadgets. It is Bond and not his female co-star who is the butt of the film’s jokes.
The Gaze (Laura Mulvey)
Bond Girls have long been defined by “the gaze.” In the 1970s, scholar Laura Mulvey published her “gaze theory,” sparking the development of feminist film theory and drawing attention to the gendering of media images. Although her theory is detailed and multifaceted, the following is the crux of it.
According to Mulvey, the gaze in film is male. The lead male character is an active gazer in the film. He is the subject who possesses the gaze and the one who does the looking. In comparison, the female is an object that is being looked at. She is passive, and her body is placed on display and gazed upon. Through camera work, the spectator shares the point-of-view (POV) of the male gazer and looks at the women featured in the film. Mulvey draws attention to the gender binary at the heart of media images: the active male subject vs. the passive female object.
Mulvey further argues that women possess “to-be-looked-at-ness.” Women are presented as erotic spectacles and pin-ups in their films. They play to and signify male desire (in a heteronormative context). In addition, her visual presence in the film tends to work against story development. She freezes the flow of action and creates moments of erotic contemplation. The male hero often stops to gaze at her.
From the outset of the franchise, the Bond Girl has been positioned as the object of the gaze. She is presented as a visual spectacle in her films. She is set up for Bond to gaze upon and the audience, who share Bond’s perspective, are also encouraged to look at her. Moreover, the female protagonist frequently appears in lingerie and bathing suits. These work to enhance her sex characteristics as they highlight her breasts, stomach, hips, and legs.
In the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), the inaugural Bond Girl Honey Ryder is introduced as an object of the gaze. Bond wakes up on the beach of an island to the sound of a woman singing. He looks out into the water and spies Ryder emerging from the sea in a white bikini. During their first meeting, Ryder asks if Bond is looking for shells and he responds with “no, I’m just looking.” The camera shares Bond’s POV and the viewer is encouraged to look at her too (hence, “the gaze”). Moments later when Quarrel runs towards Bond, he stops in his tracks and stares of Ryder. He loses his capacity to speak and his mouth hangs open. This arresting image of Ryder in a bikini literally freezes the flow of action.
Die Another Day (2002) features an homage to this iconic scene in its introduction of Jinx Johnson. Bond gazes at her through binoculars while standing on the shore. He watches as she emerges from the water in an orange bikini and walks towards him. During their first meeting, he says “magnificent view” commenting on her physique (rather than the scenery behind her). Even though Johnson is an Action Hero who is presented as an equal and co-hero to Bond, she is still introduced and defined through his male gaze.
This leads to an important line questioning: Does this mode of representation enhance or detract the Bond Girl’s heroism? Does it work to trivialize or diminish her character? Or is this simply a fundamental element of the archetype that she can’t move past?
Freedom or Exploitation?
The Bond franchise has been criticized for being many things (such as racist, heterosexist, classist, xenophobic) including sexist and misogynistic. Misogyny refers to the dislike of, contempt for, and ingrained prejudice against women. Misogyny can manifest in many ways such as sexual discrimination, objectification, and violence directed towards women. Although Bond films are rooted in the sexual politics of the 1960s, a seemingly more liberal/liberated era, some have questioned if women in the Bond films are truly free or if they are simply being exploited under the guise of freedom. As Arthur Marwick has stated: “Was this sexual liberation for women, or simply enhanced liberation for men, a grand occasion for even the more ruthless sexual exploitation of women?”
Most Bond films feature at least one women semi-nude and in various stages of undress. This is in addition to the many anonymous/unknown women who are featured in the opening credit sequence. Emphasis is placed on female bodies, which are partially if not fully nude and presented in shadow or silhouette. The objectification of women has long been a marketing feature of the franchise. It is also a core element in promotional materials such as movie posters and men’s magazines.
Playboy is an American men’s lifestyle magazine that features nude photographs of women as well as journalism and fiction. It has a long history of publishing short stories by notable novelists including Ian Fleming with “The Hildebrand Rarity” in 1960 as well as “Octopussy” posthumously in 1966. In addition, many women featured in the Bond films have posed for Playboy. Their photo-shoots coincide with the release of their films and some even took place on set after the films were shot. There is a long tradition of Bond women appearing in Playboy especially in the first three decades of the franchise.
Various issues of Playboy correspond with the release of a Bond film. The women featured in them are photographed nude and semi-nude, and their poses and settings recall their roles in their respective Bond films. All women from major to minor figures are marketed as “Bond Girls” regardless of their role or function in the films. These photos also help to reaffirm the male gaze. They emphasize the pleasures of looking at the women of Bond. The reader can see more of Bond’s co-stars than shown in the films. In essence, the reader is offered a glimpse of what Bond gets to see behind closed doors since the film proper does not contain any nudity (beyond the opening credit sequences).
Since the 1960s, Playboy has (un)covered many of the Bond films with pictorials:
In addition to Playboy, the women of Bond are also featured in other men’s magazines that range from “adult” or pornographic content to more mainstream images. They have been featured in Maxim, Arena and FHM to name a few. Even though these women are wearing more clothing, this remains a problematic and reductive mode of marketing. These women seem to be defined by their beauty/bodies rather than by their performance or skills. Since the 1990s, there has been a lot of talk about how gender politics have progressed in the Bond franchise and the world beyond, but compared to the 1960s are the women of Bond valued more, less, or the same?
In the mid-1990s, the Bond franchise returned after a 6-year hiatus. During this time, the series renegotiated some of its codes and the Brosnan films have been updated in terms of gender politics. Now, the Bond films did not necessarily alter Bond’s attitude towards women. Instead, they adjusted the attitudes of women around Bond. They forward the impression that the while the world has changed as well as the women who inhabit it, Bond has remained the somewhat the same and will face some new challenges (in the workplace/field).
Bond films of the 1990s (like many other spy narratives) are strongly influenced by postfeminism. This is a popular social movement among some (privileged) women that is centered on the belief that feminism has won its battles. It promotes the idea that (the need for) feminism is over and women have achieved social equality. As suggested by the prefix “post” (which means “after”), this movement claims that we are living in the time after feminism.
(It is important to note that third wave feminism and postfeminism take place at the same time. They relay different impressions about the social status of women and the need to fight for equality.)
One key idea forwarded during postfeminism is that femininity has been demystified. In other words, women are no longer being held back their gender. As a result, they can (re)claim their sexuality and use it personal gain without being judged harshly by others/society. “Girl Power” (popularized by the Spice Girls) was a notable expression of postfeminism at the time.
Many scholars have strongly criticized the postfeminist movement and believe that it relays some troublesome messages. First, postfeminism is an exclusive movement that focuses on the experiences of certain women: white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual, Western, Northern, and cis-gender. It takes their experiences as the universal experience for all women (much like the second wave concept of “universal womanhood”). As a result, it overlooks the lives, intersectional identities, and experiences of all women. Second, postfeminism is very narrow and overlooks the multitude of ways that women are marginalized based on their other social locations: race, class, ability, sexual orientation, nationality, and gender expression.
Third, postfeminism overlooks the fact that gender oppression still exists. The gender pay gap is a good example of this. There are many other social and structural limitations for women in addition to people who are trans, non-binary, queer, or identify in other ways. Finally, postfeminism discourages women from taking action to change their social circumstances and encourages them to be happy with the status quo. This raises an important question as to who benefits from postfeminist ideas and their transmission via film, television, and music (among other medias) in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Sexually Empowered Villains in the Brosnan Era
Postfeminism strongly informs the depiction of female villains in the Brosnan era and Bond is challenged by them in 3 out of 4 films. These women rely on duplicity to gain power over Bond and play on his affinity for sexual conquest and domestication. Importantly, they use their sexuality for personal gain and sleep with Bond in order to develop an emotional connection with him. Some even masquerade as Bond Girls in need of protection (and could be considered Bond Girl-Villain hybrids). Ultimately, the goal here is to use Bond’s libidinal masculinity against him and render him (more) vulnerable for attack. A good example is Miranda Frost in Die Another Day (2002) who literally disarms Bond’s gun (with phallic connotations) while they are in bed together.
In the Brosnan era, the gender politics governing Bond’s “licence to kill” have also been updated. Bond kills his adversaries regardless of their gender. In other words, he can and does kill women. He is able to (re)assert his masculinity over dangerous women with liberal sexual identities who challenge his phallus. Moreover, his method of killing them is often ironic and reflects their sexual threat to him in the film. Xenia Onatopp from GoldenEye (1995) is the best example of this. Onatopp is a sadist who takes sexual pleasure in inflicting pain on others. During coitus, she wraps her legs around her (usually male) target and squeezes until they asphyxiate. She is eventually killed by Bond who attaches a harness from a helicopter to her belt and she is asphyxiated between two tree branches that look like a pair of legs. Onatopp is killed in the same way that she killed men and threatened Bond.
Of all the female villains in the Brosnan era, Elektra King featured in The World Is Not Enough (1999) warrants special attention. King masquerades as a Bond Girl and damsel in distress only to emerge as the primary/arch-villain in the end. She is the first woman to serve in this capacity and much like other core villains she has her own musical theme. What makes her a memorable villain is the way that she plays on the emotions of Bond and Judi Dench’s M, albeit in different ways; her seduction of Bond (and later sexual torture) challenges the effectiveness of his libidinal masculinity while her emotional manipulation of M plays on her maternal instincts. King is underestimated as a threat and this is reflected in the Elektra Theme, which is slow and melancholic, framing her as a tragic and (somewhat) helpless figure while masking her true intent from Bond, M, and MI6 as well as the viewers. We are all seduced by her.
While some might argue that Renard is the primary villain, he serves as more of a traditional henchperson with a biologically altered/enhanced body (think: Oddjob in Goldfinger , Tee Hee in Live and Let Die , and Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me  and Moonraker ). Moreover, his pairing with King is reminiscent of Zorin and May Day in A View to a Kill (1985) with the henchperson being more emotionally/romantically invested in the relationship than the primary villain. While Renard lacks the ability to feel physical pain, King is depicted as a sociopath who lacks the ability to connect emotionally. This makes their pairing interesting (i.e. they have what the other lacks) but also unsustainable (i.e. they will never be fulfilled). Much like May Day, Renard comes across as more of a tragic figure given his unrequited love for the villain that cannot be returned.
The Case of Valenka
Casino Royale (2006) ushered in a new era of James Bond. The film is a prequel and presents the origin story of the title character from the moment he attains his “00” licence to kill. The Craig films deconstruct the Bond brand and gradually reintroduce core elements across the era. While a comprehensive discussion of the Craig era is beyond the scope of this blog (and possibly a future posting topic), it important to note that the heroic model governing the series has changed.
As I have argued elsewhere, there is a shift in Casino Royale away from the “lover literary tradition” from which Bond has his roots and towards a more Hollywood-styled hard-bodied mode of masculinity. In other words, Bond is defined less by sexual conquest and more by the way in which he endures and overcomes physical pain. Craig’s Bond is the most battered, bruised, and bloodied in history, and his action sequences are more visceral, graphic, and (hyper)violent. As the model of heroic masculinity governing the series changes, so too are the ways in which Bond’s heroism are tested and confirmed. With respect to female villainy, this requires a shift from sexual to physical threats.
Valenka featured in Casino Royale is the only notable female villain across the Craig era. She is introduced as the girlfriend and employee of the primary villain Le Chiffre. She has little dialogue and limited personal agency in the film. Instead, she is paraded around in revealing garments like bathing suits and gowns in order to offer a visual distraction to Le Chiffre’s poker opponents.
Unlike other female villains, Valenka does not interact with Bond sexually. She does not seduce Bond and Bond does not seduce her. In fact, there is no sexual tension or interaction between the characters. Instead, Valenka remains in a seemingly monogamous relationship with Le Chiffre. Since the heroism of Bond has changed from libidinal to muscular/body-based, so too are the ways in which his heroism is challenged by villainous women.
In spite of her characterization or maybe even because of it, Valenka is underestimated as a threat to Bond. However, she is one of Bond’s most dangerous adversaries because she succeeds where others have failed. She is the only villain to actually kill James Bond, even though he is resurrected shortly after. This renders Valenka one of Bond’s most dangerous opponents.
Although Valenka is a threat to Bond, she is disempowered over the course of the film. She is set up as a dependent rather than independent/autonomous character. Unlike female villains of the 1960s who make their own decisions while working for Blofeld, Valenka lacks an individual identity and sense of purpose. She is presented as being a function of Le Chiffre and not his partner/equal. While we clearly know what motivates him, we get no insight into what is driving her (maybe love?). Her silence is quite deafening in this respect.
We also get the sense that Le Chiffre might not care for her all that much. When Le Chiffre and Valenka are attacked in their hotel room, Le Chiffre does not call out or try to stop the assailant from hurting Valenka. The attacker even notes Le Chiffre’s lack of protest; he was willing to sacrifice Valenka in order to save himself. This is different from Bond’s attempt at saving Vesper Lynd in the stairwell in the next scene. This works to further contrast Bond and Le Chiffre in the film particularly with respect to their romantic relationships.
The fate of Valenka is also quite telling. While we see LeChiffre die through Bond’s point-of-view – he is killed in the climax of the film and his lifeless body falls to the ground – Valenka’s death occurs off screen. It is only mentioned in passing during a conversation between Bond and M. Given the mortal threat she posed to Bond, it is surprising that she is not killed on screen. Instead, her death is presented as a by-product of Le Chiffre’s failed business with Mr. White rather than punishment for her mortal attack on Bond. This goes to show just how disempowered she is when compared to the female villains of the past.
Late Craig Era
Since Casino Royale, there has yet to be another substantial female villain in the Craig era films. While some might argue that Severine from Skyfall (2012) is a central figure/antagonist, I see her as more of a secondary figure with limited purpose. Unlike other kept women like Domino Derval in Thunderball (1965) and Andrea Anders in Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Severine could easily be removed from the film with little disruption to the plot line. Moreover, she is one of the most disempowered and tragic women featured in the series. For a detailed discussion of Severine and the racial stereotypes framing her representation, see my article “(D)Evolving Representations of Asian Women in Bond Films”.
With the release of No Time To Die, it will be interesting to see if either Nomi or Madeleine Swann will take up this role. Trailers for the film suggest both are possibilities but we will need to wait until November to see.
May Day! Disappearing Women!
Bond films of the 1970s present different politics of representation. They feature narratives in which women are being ‘put back into their place’ within the (hetero)patriarchy as the franchise registers the feminist backlash and resistance to feminist gains of the 1960s. They reflect concerns over the changing social status of women. As noted by Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott: “This shift in narrative organization clearly constituted a response – in truth, somewhat nervous and uncertain – to the Women’s Liberation movement, fictitiously rolling-back the advances of feminism to restore an imaginarily more secure phallocentric conception of gender relations” (28). Phallocentric refers to the focus on the phallus/penis as a symbol of male dominance. Bond films of the 1970s emphasize Bond’s libidinal masculinity while downplaying any challenges to it.
As a result, female villains in the 1970s play relatively minor roles in their films. They were presented as incompetent spies like Rosie Carver in Live and Let Die (1973), tragic mistresses like Andrea Anders in Man with the Golden Gun (1974), and sexy secretaries like Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The agency, competency, and autonomy that defined female villains (like Rosa Klebb and Fiona Volpe) of the 1960s have been reduced and diluted in the 1970s. By the 1980s, few villainous women appear in the franchise at all. Over a 2-decade period the Bond franchise phased out images of “bad” women in order to focus on the domestication of “good” women (i.e. the Bond Girl) and emphasize the success of Bond’s phallic masculinity.
Has James Bond Finally Met His Match?
The only substantial female villain of the 1980s is May Day played by Grace Jones in A View to a Kill (1985). Even though May Day is not the arch-villain, she is privileged in the promotional materials for the film. One notable poster features an image of Bond and May Day standing back to back with the tagline “Has James Bond finally met his match?” While Bond is wearing his trademark black suit and holding a gun, May Day is dressed in a black one-piece bodysuit and heels while smoking. The image emphasizes her toned and muscular body while objectifying and sexualizing her in the process. As a result, her strength (via muscularity) and sexuality (given the phallic nature of her elongated cigarette) are presented, from the outset, as threatening to Bond.
In some promotional materials for the upcoming Bond film No Time to Die (2020), Nomi played by Lashana Lynch is set up in a similar way. Even though she has taken over the agent number 007 following the retirement of Bond from MI6, she is set up as an adversary (rather than ally) to him in the film. This is relayed in a post on the official Twitter account for the series @007. The statement “Has Bond met his match?” is followed by the film’s trailer mainly with scenes of his interactions with Nomi. It can also be seen in the fan art recently posted by @thrice_champ that not only mirrors the style of Moore era posters and especially A View to a Kill, but draws a direct comparison between May Day and Nomi. While a comparative analysis of the framing and narrative treatment of each women of color in their respective films is beyond the scope of this blog (given that No Time To Die has yet to be released), it is an important project that should be undertaken.
Understanding the Enigma
May Day is considered to be an enigma in the series. Critics have struggled to read her character because she represents a challenge to Bond that is never resolved. Not only does she dominate him in bed, but she is physically stronger and a trained fighter. If Bond and May Day fought in hand-to-hand combat, he would surely lose. The film completely avoids this confrontation by having Zorin betray May Day leading the latter to commit suicide.
Third wave feminism offers some insight into the casting and characterization of May Day. Third wave feminism emerged in response to the perceived failures of the second wave; that all women have not achieved social equality and remain (institutionally) limited by their gender. The third wave promotes the notion that every woman is a unique individual; her identity is not only based on her gender but also on its intersection with other social locations like race, class, and sexuality. Thus, the third wave celebrates the diversity of the female experience, fosters a ‘woman of color consciousness’, commits to breaking down social barriers, and views difference and even contradictions as being positive.
The casting of Grace Jones coincides with the rise of third wave feminism. Jones is the first black woman to play a lead role in the Bond franchise. She plays a primary character unlike Rosier Carver who is a minor figure in Live and Let Die (1971). In addition, May Day cannot easily be categorized: she is at once masculine and feminine, hard and soft, strong and sensitive. Bond is both fearful and attracted to her. She embodies some of the contradictions that are celebrated by third wave feminism. However, it must be noted that her representation is still highly problematic as it relies strongly on racial/racist stereotypes of black women/femininity.
Grace Jones had an established star persona prior to her casting in A View to a Kill. She is part of the ‘Brigitte Neilson era’ of action women: muscular women featured as heroes in 1980s action-fantasy films. They include Sandahl Bergman in Conan the Barbarian (1982), Grace Jones in Conan the Destroyer (1984), and Brigitte Neilson in Red Sonja (1985).
In fact, the character May Day is similar to the character Jones plays in Conan the Destroyer.
The depiction of Jones in Conan the Destroyer relies on problematic stereotypes associated with black women/femininity. Her character Zulu is presented as animalistic/untamed (in clip 1) and hypersexual (in clip 2). Racial stereotypes work to define a person/character in relation to the status quo. Historically, they have provided cultural justifications for the white man’s (forced) sexual access of the bodies of black women. This depiction has its roots in US slavery.
Beyond her role as Zulu in Conan the Destroyer, Jones had developed a distinctive star image as a musician. She has a unique sound and look. The question is: how do you integrate such a distinctive star image into the Bond franchise?
🎵 Strange, I’ve Seen That Face Before🎵
When May Day is first introduced into A View to a Kill, she appears very similar to Zulu from Conan the Destroyer. She is presented as being wild, animalistic, hypermasculine, hyperviolent, oversexed, exotic, and amoral. She is depicted as a sadist – a person who derives pleasure and especially sexual gratification from inflicting pain, suffering, and/or humiliation on others. She comes across as threatening, intimidating, and frightening to Bond and the audience by extension.
After May Day is betrayed by Zorin, however, she tells her backstory to Bond and is humanized in the process (i.e. we no longer fear the unknown). She explains the motivations for her actions and is given an opportunity to redeemer herself in the film. It is important to note that May Day does not switch sides after her sexual encounter with Bond (i.e. due to the power of his libidinal masculinity) and instead is motivated by revenge after Zorin betrays her and kills her friend, Jenny Flex, in the process. She refuses any form of phallocentric definition and presents a competing image of heroism motivated by personal loss rather than professional gain. It is May Day, and not Bond, who does the physical labor to remove the bomb and follows through on their collective mission when their interests line up. Moreover, it is May Day who sacrifices her life to screw over Zorin, which in turn, just happens to be for the greater good.
May Day is the only female villain to determine her own fate in a Bond film. She is never punished for her violent and sexual exploits. She is not killed by the villain or by Bond. Instead, she dies on her own terms. Her death does not allow Bond the opportunity to prove his phallic masculinity. The much anticipated fight between them never happens. In fact, the franchise seems to avoid this issue entirely as Bond would clearly lose to her in a fight. This is why scholars have difficulty understanding her because she defies long-standing conventions in the franchise.
Does the humanization of May Day and her subsequent heroic ending compensate for the strong use of racial/racist stereotyping in the first half of the film? No. But it does highlight the underlying inequality framing the question, “Has James Bond finally met his match?” as the the title hero is privileged in every significant social location while his adversary is limited (socially and narratively) by the stereotypes associated with black women/femininity. It is not a fair fight from the outset and the franchise/institution ensures that Bond’s privilege and phallic masculinity will not be explicitly challenged.
To be continued…
The James Bond films are populated with women who help to shape and confirm the libidinal masculinity of the title character. However, when we simply group all women together under the umbrella term “Bond Girl,” we invariably overlook the range and diversity of female characterization as well as changes in female representation over time. There is a difference between a primary character and a secondary figure (who may or may not be named). Moreover, female protagonists are depicted differently than their villainous counterparts.
This blog is the first in a series to explore the depiction of female villainy across the Bond franchise. While female antagonists occupy a range of roles from arch-villain (like Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough ) and henchperson (like Fiona Volpe in Thunderball ) to various unnamed spies (like the woman featured in the pre-credit sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me ), my focus here is on major figures who play a central role in their narrative and significantly impact Bond’s ability to complete his missions.
There are different waves/phases of female villainy and each is defined by a set of common characteristics including image, actions, behaviors/mannerisms, and sexuality. More importantly, these phases are influenced by different waves of feminism as the Bond franchise registers the changing social climate and does the imaginative work of culture by addressing contemporaneous ‘concerns’ about liberated women.
Good vs Bad
The term representational politics refers to the way(s) in which power constantly strives to fix meaning to support its agenda. Cultural binds individuals and institutions together, and provides justifications for maintaining systems of oppression thus contributing to, if not buttressing, social privilege. As such, meanings are assigned to people, events, resources, ecological conditions, and even objects. For our purposes here, I am most interested in exploring how women are presented as villains in the Bond films and what messages are being relayed through their depictions about the social role and value of women.
The early Bond films incorporated and addressed the ‘modern’ sexual identities of the 1960s. They first emerged during the ‘swinging sixties’ and this was a time of great(er) sexual freedom. With the rise of various branches of second wave feminism, more attention was being directed towards the systematic oppression of women especially in the areas of reproduction and mothering, sexual violence, domestic labor, and the expression of sexuality. During this time, there was a shift away from more conservative/traditional ideas that regulated sex, sexuality, and the body, which reinforced the idea that you could not have sex before marriage.
In the film series, Bond was freed from the sexual constraints of chivalry while women were liberated (to some degree) from the confines of marriage and the family. Prior to the 1960s, female sexuality was considered suspect, immoral, and often dangerous when presented outside of marriage. Even though the Bond films present women with more liberal/liberated sexual identities, there is still a value judgment that is being relayed – one that conveys traditional gender roles. In the Bond films of the 1960s, we are presented with a binary of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ women.
The ‘good’ woman in the Bond film is the Bond Girl. She is good because she submits to the will and libido of James Bond; she trades in her liberal sexuality for a domesticated one and enters into a committed relationship with Bond. This renders her ‘safe.’ So while the Bond Girl is sexually and socially liberated for a time, she is expected to return to her traditional gender role and be domesticated by the end of the film.
The ‘bad’ woman, in comparison, is the female villain. She is not simply defined by her allegiance to the arch-villain (often Blofeld), her violent actions, or evil intent; she is also coded as ‘bad’ for refusing to trade in her liberal sexuality for a domesticated one after her sexual encounter with James Bond. She rejects the prescription of traditional gender roles and this renders her a ‘dangerous’ woman not only in the world of Bond but society at large.
🎵 Hair, Flow It, Show It 🎵
In the first decade of the franchise, the films relied on iconography to contrast good and bad women. More specifically, they relied on elements of visual style to differentiate the two groups.
On the one hand, the image of the Bond Girl adheres to the template outlined by Ian Fleming in his novels. The Bond Girl is described as having blond or brown/black hair with no intermediary shades. Bond Girls of the 1960s generally adhere to this convention (with the exception being Tracy DiVicenzo/Bond. For a detailed discussion of her depiction, see my chapter on the typography of the Bond Girl).
On the other hand, the image of the female villain is different and the most dangerous women of the decade are presented with red hair. In his novels, Fleming reserved red hair for Bond’s most dangerous male adversaries. He suggested that Bond should be alarmed by red hair as it will match the ‘red’ (or violent intentions) in the villain’s eyes. Interestingly, this convention was transposed onto female villains in the films and not their male counterparts.
In the 1960s, the Bond films relied on stereotypes associated with red-haired women and incorporated them into their characterization of female villains. The stereotypes centered on notions of deviance – the departure from a usual/accepted standard. For the red-haired female villains, this included notions of:
* sexual deviance – wild and oversexed
* social deviance – hot tempered, weird, and clownish
Based on these stereotypes, there are two types of female villains who emerge in the 1960s: (i) the oversexed siren and (ii) the middle-aged sexual deviant. These types are differentiated in terms of image, age, and their sexual relationship with Bond.
1. Oversexed Siren
The first type of female villain is the oversexed siren. Two women can be grouped into this category: Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965) and Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice (1967). While the former is the trusted adviser of Emilio Largo (who is #2 in SPECTRE), the latter is an official member of the organization (#11).
Both women are young and attractive. However, unlike the Bond Girl they are presented as being sexual threats to Bond. Although they sleep with Bond, they do not shift their allegiance away from the villain. Instead, they refuse to side with Bond, become his Bond Girl, or be domesticated by him after their encounter.
Fiona Volpe is the best example of this. When Bond sleeps with Volpe in Thunderball, he refers to her as being a “tiger” and tells her she should be “locked up in a cage.” Their scene is shot through the golden bars of a bed frame suggesting that she has a wild sexuality (matching or even exceeding the sexual appetite of Bond) and needs to be tamed/domesticated.
But after their sexual encounter, Volpe refuses to side with Bond and even criticizes his attempt at domestication. She states: “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond, James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents and then immediately returns to the side of right and virtue. But not this one!” In this quote, Volpe proudly proclaims her villainous status while critiquing Bond’s (hetero)patriarchal view on female sexuality. This renders her a dangerous woman in the world of Bond.
James Bond has a licence to kill. And yet, in the first three decades of the franchise he uses it to mainly kill men. Rarely does he kill a woman and the most notable exception is Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me (1979) who is piloting a plane shot down by Bond. Given the physical distance between Bond and his target, and the mode of killing via a launched missile, her death does not seem as personal or violent. Thus, early in the franchise Bond’s license to kill seems to be gendered.
There appears to be a double standard in the Bond films. While women can hurt Bond and try to kill him, he does not hurt them (in the same way) back. One reason for this could be a concern, on the part of filmmakers, about how contemporaneous audiences would respond to Bond killing a woman. Violence against women is often linked to notions of female victimization; audiences might sympathize and side with the woman vilifying Bond in the process. The politics of representation in the franchise are designed to sanction Bond’s missions. They are not only institutionally permitted by MI6 (i.e. they are not illegal) but they also need to be socially palatable and acceptable for audiences. As a result, Bond was given a licence to kill but does not (regularly) use it towards women.
One way around this issue was to place the responsibility for violence against women onto SPECTRE with female villains being killed by Blofeld or one of his male agents. Any negative reactions to their deaths would be linked to the organization working to further vilify them while keeping the hands of Bond ‘clean’. This approach is also a way to remove female villains who pose a phallic danger to Bond, refuse to side with him, and reject domestication.
2. Middle-Aged Sexual Deviant
The second type of female villain is the middle-aged sexual deviant. Two women can be included in this category: Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love (1963) and Irma Bunt in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). While the former is an agent of SPECTRE (#3 in their organization), the latter is the trusted adviser of Blofeld (who is #1).
Both villains share a relatively consistently image. In terms of appearance, they are both middle-aged white women with similar body shapes who dress conservatively. In terms of personality, they are cold and blunt, and speak with a ‘foreign’/non-English accent thus potentially tapping into xenophobia or fear of the (accented) other. (In the 1960s, most Bond Girls speak with an English accent and the voices of some figures like Honey Ryder in Dr No , Domino Derval in Thunderball , and Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice  were dubbed by the same voice actor, Monica van der Zyl, in post-production). Finally, both women are connected by their red hair which is cut short or pulled back in order to emphasize age over aesthetics.
These women occupy an interesting place in the world of Bond. They are not set up as love interests or sexual conquests as they are considered (by the franchise and Hollywood at large) to be too old and unattractive to appeal to and challenge Bond’s libido. Instead, these women are characterized as lesbians at a time when homosexuality was considered deviant and criminal (until 1967 in England and Wales, and 1981 in Scotland). At times, their sexual orientation is overtly depicted and at other points it is more subtle. In both instances, their sexual orientation (be it suggested or assumed) helped to vilify the figures further (see Black 2000). Moreover, both women challenge Bond by restricting his access to the Bond Girl. They might offer competition for the Bond Girl’s affections (e.g. Rosa Klebb) or prevent Bond from having sex with his conquests (e.g. Irma Bunt).
In the case of From Russia with Love, Bond Girl Tatiana Romanova has to choose between her Russian commander and lesbian suitor (Rosa Klebb), and her British target and heterosexual lover (James Bond)
At the end of each Bond film, we expect Bond’s adversaries to die with a notable exception being made for Blofeld who serves as an arch-villain across multiple films. However, he is eventually killed in the pre-credit sequence in For Your Eyes Only (1981). However, there is one occasion where Bondian justice has not been served. In OHMSS, Bond marries Tracy DiVicenzo who is murdered shortly after their wedding. She is shot by Irma Bunt while sitting in the passenger seat of Bond’s car. The film ends on this tragic if not devastating note.
Although Bunt murders Bond’s wife, she is never killed, captured, or punished. Bond goes after Blofeld who was driving the car and his desire for revenge is presented in the opening scenes of the following film Diamonds Are Forever (1971). However, Bond never pursues Bunt who did the actual killing. Bunt remains the only villain in the history of the series to escape the violent retribution of Bond. She simply gets away with it.
The Bond franchise frequently casts multiple actors for the same role. This is the case for James Bond who has been played by 6 actors, Miss Moneypenny who has been played by 4, and other staple figures like Felix Leiter, M, and Blofeld. The actor who played Irma Bunt, Ilse Steppat, died shortly after the film was released. Producers considered her to be irreplaceable in the franchise and did not recast the role or bring back the character out of respect. This works to position Steppat and her character Bunt as anomalies in the franchise.
To be continued…
Last week in my Gender and James Bond course, we discussed the deeply troubling scene at the beginning of Thunderball (1965) in which Bond sexually harasses and coerces a nurse at the health clinic Shrublands. On multiple occasions, Patricia Fearing rejects the physical and verbal advances of Bond making it clear that she is not interested in sexual activity. Bond does not accept her rejections or respect her bodily autonomy, and eventually blackmails Fearing into sleeping with him.
While my students typically find this scene problematic and uncomfortable to watch, my class this semester found it to be especially troubling. Unlike recent depictions of sexual violence featured in shows like Game of Thrones, which are more graphic but clearly framed as being bad/wrong/immoral, the sexual violence in Thunderball is (re)coded via music as playful and seductive, thus normalizing Bond’s tactics. When Christoph Lindner teaches Thunderball, he shows the scene first with sound and then screens it again without sound in order to underscore the role that the soundtrack/music plays in (re)coding the sexual violence as flirtatious and ultimately consensual. Thus, it was the framing of scene rather than the quantity and degree of explicit sexual violence that was most/more concerning to my students.
A similar tactic is utilized in the opening scene of Diamonds Are Forever (1971) when Bond, looking to ‘uncover’ the whereabouts of Blofeld, interrogates Marie who he finds sunbathing in a gold bikini. He approaches the woman, swiftly unclips her bikini top, and proceeds to choke her with it, briefly exposing her breasts in the process. As Bond tightens the noose, the woman gasps for air and her frightened face fills the screen in a close-up shot. The film arguably tries to downplay the brutality of Bond’s actions by having Marie moan in a sexually suggestive way. This sound, likely added in post-production (given the frequency of dubbing across the Connery era), does not negate the violence she endures or the lack of consent she expresses through her body (since Bond has taken away her ability to speak).
Like other Bond women, Patricia Fearing has a double entendre for a name but the sexually suggestive secondary meaning highlights her trepidation of Bond on personal and professional levels. As a result, her name FEARING challenges the libidinal masculinity of Bond given his use of forceful tactics that appear similar to those employed by villains in this era. For instance, in From Russia with Love (1963) as well as its 1957 source novel, Klebb’s sexual harassment of Romanova is deemed inappropriate in light of her position of authority (via rank) over Romanova as well as broader notions of sexual deviance prominent at the time. By comparison, Thunderball tries to (re)code Bond’s sexual harassment of Fearing as harmless fun. Given that his actions take place outside of an official mission, they are personal rather than professional. In other words, his sexual misconduct cannot be justified as a field tactic or explained away as a product of the sexual expectations (of women) in spy culture. As a result, Connery’s Bond comes across as predatory.
In popular culture, James Bond is known for his sexual magnetism and ability to attract women. This scene in Thunderball challenges the way we “remember” Connery’s Bond while forgetting his use of deception, intimidation, and sexual violence to accomplish his professional and personal goals. In the #MeToo era, is important that we see the full picture and examine the messages being relayed through popular culture and its icons about gender, sex/sexuality, and power.
For a detailed discussion, see my forthcoming article “Delightful Duties?: Sexual Violence in the Connery Era James Bond Films (1962-71)”
I am thinking about ice, water, and the elemental featured in the No Time To Die (2020) trailers on a frigid day in Oklahoma. I originally posted my thoughts as a Twitter thread and decided to compile them into my first blog post.
No Time to Die (2020) trailer
There is a strong link between water and femininity across the James Bond series. Water is largely considered to be a feminine element given its connection to maternity and the waters of life. Various Bond scholars have explored the link between women and water in the series (see my article with Klaus Dodds for instance). Bond often meets, woos, and sleeps with women under water. But this element is reclaimed and associated with Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale (2006) when he, and not Vesper Lynd, emerges from the sea in a bathing suit. This scene is an homage to Dr. No (1962) and recalls the introduction of quintessential Bond Girl Honey Ryder. As I have argued elsewhere, Craig’s Bond is positioned through the iconography of the Bond Girl and presented as a Bond-Bond Girl hybrid in the film. It is Solange Dimitrios and later Vesper Lynd who watch Bond emerge from the sea and the audience shares their POVs. These scenes effectively establish a female gaze in the film.
Casino Royale (2006)
In Casino Royale, there is a shift in heroic model away from the British lover literary tradition. Instead, Bond is presented through a more hard-bodied model of masculinity popularized in Hollywood blockbusters. As the heroic model changes, so too are the ways in which Bond’s masculinity are tested and confirmed (i.e. a shift from libido-based challenges to more physical ones). This in turn alters the relationship between Bond and the elements. Bond’s mastery of water as a Naval Commander becomes less about seduction (e.g. wooing Domino Derval underwater in Thunderball) and more about physical survival (e.g. opening of Skyfall).
Thunderball (1965) and Skyfall (2012)
The icy imagery in No Time To Die also recalls the underwater scene at the end of Skyfall. While ice can contain and obscure (i.e. keeping the truth hidden and below the surface), water is also associated with the process of rebirth. Skyfall offers a fitting end to the orphan origin trilogy – Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall – with Bond emerging as a (super)spy at the conclusion of the film. Is Bond 25 suggesting another ‘return’ or ‘rebirth’ of Bond in the Craig era?
In The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), the doppelganger Charly resurfaces during the torture sequence in icy water. She embodies Freud’s theory of the “uncanny” – that which should remain hidden is ‘scary’ when it reemerges – and appears monstrous upon her return. Her skin not only turns blue (suggesting a hardening of her body in the freezing water) but she also appears colder emotionally and more focused on vengeance.
Will James Bond be presented as dangerous and threatening upon his return to the service/field in No Time To Die? The imagery and symbolism in the trailers especially with the prevalence of the color blue in both costuming and promotional materials suggest this is a strong possibility. Will the color blue be aligned with the loyal servants of MI6 as in Skyfall (see my book with Klaus Dodds for a discussion of this), the waters of life, or even the hardening of Bond emotionally? We will soon find out.
No Time to Die (2020)