The revolution in social attitudes towards sexual harassment means James Bond is more out-dated than ever, writes Aidan Smith.
When I was deemed old enough to go to the flicks without parental supervision, the first James Bond films were a few years old but still running as double-bills – one shilling and ninepence per pair – and at the end of the programme my pals and I would hide under the flea-pit’s seats out of range of the usherettes’ torches so we could thrill to the wham-bam all over again.
Did I see Ursula Andress emerge from the waves in Dr No twice in one Saturday afternoon or was it three times? Can’t remember. I certainly cracked the joke about her being “Ursula Undress” 50 times at least. But that wouldn’t happen now. For one thing, cinemas wouldn’t be so generous, and they’d have better checks in place to thwart stowaways. For another, Andress wouldn’t have to stand on the shore having been told the scene was all about conch shells and their intrinsic beauty when in fact the producers were after the most iconic bikini shot in movie history. And she certainly wouldn’t be obliged to swoon quite so speedily over an accent straight off the milk rounds of Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge.
The 25th outing for Bond is due next year and apparently there will be changes. Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director, insists this is inevitable in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp. “You write in real time,” explained Boyle who’s developing a script for the feature. “You acknowledge the legacy of the world [of Bond] … but you write in the modern world as well.”
How will he function in the modern world, this re-programmed Bond? Will we even recognise him from the previous 24 films when he was the oversexed undercover agent, overdoing the understatement? Will we still want him around?
Almost as soon as Harvey Weinstein’s dressing-gown fell open, and the first gruesome revelations of sexual coercion and assault in Hollywood spilled out, a debate was sparked about the future of Bond. Of course it was; he’s the movie character who will be left most confused and compromised by the crackdown on harassment of women which must be the revelations’ inevitable consequence.
To put it in words he might understand: “Come, come, Mr Bond, an attractive woman should be allowed to move around the workplace unmolested, even if that workplace is a sun-kissed beach. The wearing of a bikini on a sun-kissed beach is appropriate for the location and should not be regarded as a come-on.”
If you want to remind yourself of how randy, out of control and downright misogynistic Bond has been since his big-screen debut in 1962, check out the internet. YouTube whizzes have helpfully spliced together clips and I’m not talking about Double-O-Seven’s double entendres. He slaps a woman hard on the backside to remove her while he gets down to some “man talk”. He bursts in on a woman taking a bath and when she protests, asking that at least he hands her something to wear, shoes are offered. “There’s something I must get off your chest,” he says to another victim, removing the top half of her bikini to strangle her. In another scene, he forces himself onto Pussy Galore.
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The effect is like watching Benny Hill, an X-rated version, for Bond always catches the girls he pursues. His gadgets are far superior to strategically positioned branches for the snaring of brassieres. He can throw a girl onto a bed, at the same time checking if there are any reds under the bed, and his conquest will always melt, not even being put off by his ghastly safari suit. You think: has the great existential suave bastard-hero been reduced to this? Are his encounters with women how we judge him and the films’ worth? Right now, they are.
Really, it’s remarkable he’s gone on so long. In 1958, when Bond creator Ian Fleming published Dr No, one review reckoned the character had the “sadism of a school bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent and the crude snob-cravings of a suburban adult”. None of this put off the audiences, of course, and the 007 franchise rode out the various waves of feminism, surviving George Lazenby and Roger Moore’s ridiculously arched left eyebrow to arrive at Daniel Craig’s portrayal and the threat to Bond’s continued well-being posed by #MeToo.
What, is this more lethal for Bond than torture racks and flying steel bowlers and piranhas lurking under collapsing bridges? A grimmer fate than being served a martini prepared the wrong way round, stirred and not shaken? I think it is.
Concessions have been made to changing times and mores, but have they worked? As far back as 1995, Dame Judi Dench’s M was lambasting Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. Then, in the Craig era, there were promises of a different kind of Bond girl, strong and independent. Older, too, but when the 50-year-old Monica Bellucci turned up, her character was hardly a break with the past, and wasn’t treated as such by the main man, who also wasn’t above seducing victims of sex trafficking.
All of which suggests that the Fettes College-educated bounder cannot be changed, otherwise he won’t be Bond anymore. I’m not sure even his fiercest critics would want to see a simpering, diversity-pleasing version in heavily starched underpants, possibly joining forces with the new female Doctor Who. It would just be too sad, even though right now in the world there are Russians requiring to be keenly watched.
The next time you’re offered a cyanide capsule, James, take it. I loved you in the one-and-ninepenny seats, but time’s up.