In the discussions about who or what Bond should be, what he should look like or whether the whole franchise should be replaced by Paloma or Nomi spinoffs, it’s intriguing to review how the female of the species has already been represented in Bond movies. And what these changes suggest for future directions of the franchise.
Let’s start with Quantum of Solace.
Oh No, Not That Bond….
Whilst not everyone’s favourite Bond movie, and flawed, it is a fantastic Bond art movie. It looks and sounds gorgeous, and there are some fantastic fight and chase sequences, as well as humour. But compared to Casino Royale, Spectre or Skyfall, it’s treatment of women is more uneven. Haunted by duplicitous Vesper, (and revengefully heartbroken), Bond is on the hunt to find out who’s behind it all.
In place of Vesper, there are Camille (girlfriend of the villain of the piece, Dominic Greene, and counter spy) and Strawberry Fields (British Agent) foolishly sent by M to deal with Bond and bring him home. (I question M’s judgement on this one — does she not know what he’s like by now?)
Whilst Gemma Arterton does what she can with this part, I can’t help but groan — it feels like we’ve jumped backwards — women have stopped having proper names (and therefore characters), and gone back to the jokey names of Connery or Moore days, and kind of walking named parts. This name does set the tone for the film overall — it’s more like Craig doing Moore — there are more jokes, and quips, and it feels less smart and snappy than Casino.
Agent Fields does her bit — interrupting Camille and Greene as they get too close for comfort at the edge of a balcony; tripping up villains (enough to put one in a neckbrace!) and helping to find the stationery, but ultimately gets to be the love interest that doesn’t survive, in a throwback to Goldfinger. Astoundingly Bond has nothing to say — unlike his seering Banter with Vesper over her naming. He also ignores and leads Agent Fields on a merry dance; which she is forced to go along with — something which Vesper didn’t put up with. This seems to be a return to a less confident Bond girl/woman.
Camille — Bond Woman and Equal
Camille is a great character and interestingly she doesn’t fall obviously in love with Bond — there is hint of the partnerships to come in No Time To Die. A getaway driver, very angry villain’s girlfriend (and who wouldn’t be, when they’ve just tried to have you killed?) and someone who really doesn’t need Bond’s rescue attempt! Greene hands Camille over as a ‘gift’ to the General who killed family and raped her mother; Bond sees a vulnerable woman who needs rescuing — Camille sees an opportunity to get even. Unfortunately, Bond messes it all up — but this also provides the opportunity for them to work together, as well as creating another fantastic chase sequence — on water!
They fly a plane together much more competently than Timothy Dalton and Maryam D’Abo in The Living Daylights; they freefall to safety in evening dress and even have change for the desert bus to get back to the nearest water-starved town/village. More like the Brosnan movies, Camille and Bond go in against Greene together — each to get their person and ultimately refresh Bolivia. In this partnership of equals, Camille is as tough as Bond — fighting the taunting General and then being sought by Bond as she relieves the horrors of her childhood, apparently trapped by fire. This allows a rehash of the Vesper-Bond shower scene and a bit of tenderness, as there appears to be no way out but a gun-shot. But there is time to die another day, and escaping an exploding, flaming building, Bond bizarrely sends Camille off, grubbily, to the nearest train (and perhaps a shower?)
They play really strongly together, but there is an odd moment when Camille comes across the General sexually abusing the lone female hotel worker, who is trying to escape and I think seems to free her, but it’s awkwardly done as she pushes her away and out of the room. It’s a shove, not a rescue — although she does have a panicked, trussed woman careering straight at her! This could have been a much stronger scene of one woman freeing another from what the General had already done before to her own family. It lacks dramatic intent somehow and another thing, what happens to this worker as their workplace implodes into fireballs? Do they get out, where do they go, do they get their tied arms free in time? Why was there only one female worker on duty anyhow — (are they the manager, duty manager or housekeeper?)
M, Gemma and The Lone Female Hotel Worker
M has a smaller part than previous Bonds; again, it’s a bit ragged as M is shot at the start and appears to bounce back (nothing more is mentioned about it — or is she merely shot at?) and pops on scene on and off to issue directions to/monitor rogue Bond. M is also someone to evade, after what happens to poor Fields at the upgraded, ‘lottery win’ hotel. But don’t worry M, your time is coming in Skyfall. We do get hints of M’s strategic game as she relies on Bond to track down the group infiltrating everything, even MI6, and wonders who she can really trust and rely on.
But unlike Bond, Mathis is happy — he is living the good life with Gemma, and although a small role, Lucrezia Lante della Rovere makes this so much more than a distracting bikini part. Somehow, in the very small time she’s on screen, she banters with Mathis to suggest depth, longevity, the love of their relationship, and even as Bond visits, very much reminds Mathis that she’s there, and that this is their home, not their office. However, this is a Bond, so enjoy the happiness while it lasts!
Lone Female Hotel Worker
Oona Chaplain (according to Google) is apparently the hotel receptionist or serving girl (depending on who you read). What? Why is the hotel receptionist the only staff member left in a huge hotel complex? From what I recall, the rest of the staff had been sent away and she was left as a ‘present’ for the General; but this is even odder — she’s serving drinks and providing room service. In the basic running of a hotel this seems odd — would she even know how to access or operate the bar facilities as a receptionist?
Quantum drops in some huge themes which it then ignores in the rush to the action. Having already suggested sex/people trafficking with Dominic Greene’s treatment of Camille, it now introduces rape into the mix and blusters over this again. Bizarrely the hotel receptionist is taking a drink to the General’s room — only he sees her as in-house entertainment and proceeds to abuse her, until this is interrupted by Camille. In a missed moment, Camille just shoves a deeply distressed woman out of the way, (her hands still bound), to start her big fight with the General. I get that she doesn’t want to get distracted or make herself vulnerable, but she could have done more for a sister here — especially given her own traumatic background at the General’s hands. Then this story arc drops — the hotel goes boom, but what happens to this poor woman? Does she even get out? To an extent I think it even glamourises sexual assault as this unpleasantness fills time until Camille appears, whilst giving the viewers even more reason to distrust the General and hope that Camille/Bond will sort him for good.
In a sense Bond does get to ‘rescue’ Vesper. Having sneaked a photograph of the ‘happy’ couple and following up information that her boyfriend is still very much alive, Bond tracks down a Canadian Agent who is dating Vesper’s Algerian boyfriend. Ruining their date, he informs her that she’s been compromised. This gives her a chance to get out, whilst Bond deals with the very much alive boyfriend — slowly and painfully. It also gives M an opportunity to eat humble pie and admit Bond’s sound judgement! Brutally Vesper’s loveknot necklace is dumped in the snow, but as the duplicitous Algerian seems to have a stash of these to give out, perhaps it deserves this unceremonious dispatch?
To conclude, it’s ‘nice’ (maybe) to see that Quantum aka Spectre is an equal opportunities employer as they have a woman passing evil messages in the audience at the opera! Whilst I love the beauty, art (Tosca!), action and geography teacher jokes in this Bond, the script is presenting uneven messages about women — there are definitely Bond women, not girls; but the script has Craig skipping back to channelling Moore and Connery — dumping an unconscious Camille in comedy fashion on an unsuspecting attendant, or seducing an agent with an unfortunate name.
And that’s the issue perhaps with Quantum, for the new modern blonde Bond, it feels old-fashioned, a bit of a dinosaur… But there is hope — for in Skyfall, old dogs have new tricks!