Part I – Is it time for a female James Bond?
“Is nothing sacred?” meowed Spike the cat, official representative of the men in my life. “Your sex has appropriated everything. Can’t you leave us at least one totem of pure masculinity?”
“Nope,” I reply. And here’s why.
Commander James Bond, the character created by Ian Fleming, was definitely a man. A dull man, a blunt instrument, darkly handsome with a cruel mouth. Leaving the Navy, having served in the second world war, he becomes a secret service agent: 007 – licenced to kill. Perennially in his thirties, he never ages as he drinks, smokes, spies, womanises, fights and murders.
The film version of James Bond reached the apogee of perfection in Daniel Craig. Strong, silent and ruthlessly efficient he is a man of few words, in control of his emotions. Scar tissue has formed a carapace around his heart. But for the right woman, he will risk everything.
Highly skilled, athletic, well educated, cultured and confident, he may be a civil servant, but he’s more than just a man for hire. A daredevil rule breaker, streetsmart, a cussed, independent rogue.
So how do these traits play in a woman?
The traditional femme fatale is languid, cool, passive, beautiful in repose, rarely seen in action: Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1936), Mary Astor as Ruth Wonderly in The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins in The Killers (1946).
The femme fatale is the villain, not the hero.
There are intelligent female rule breakers who triumph in film with the aid of a powerful men: Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich (2000) or Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson in Hidden Figures (2016).
Balanced portrayals of confident, powerful, intelligent women working alone, or with other women, are rarer. Notable exceptions are
- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien (1979–1997)
- Linda Hamilton in Terminator (1991)
- Michelle Yeoh as Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012–2015)
- Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect
But when you add cold-blooded murderer to the mix, things generally don’t end well.
Glenn Close as Alex Forest in Fatal Attraction (1987) does not survive, but at least she is believable, unlike The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she takes on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad –O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), and Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) in Kill Bill (2003) or Anne Parillaud as Nikita (1990).
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones (2011-2019) is pretty awesome, but she does rely on dragons. I rest my case.
Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey writes that in film, women are too often simply objects for the male gaze. It was only when Jodie Comer arrived as Villanelle in Killing Eve that I met a cold blooded female assassin who was even remotely credible.
And completely unhinged.
“Why steal 007, “ purrs Spike. “Why not create a rival, a shapely 008 or an adventurous 069?”
“Nope,” I say. I’m tired of films that place women in roles that don’t feel true.
“And yet you want a woman to play a sane, sexy, athletic, promiscuous, powerful, intelligent, rule breaking, ruthless contract killer?” Spike sighs and stretches out in front of the fire. “Leave James Bond alone.”
Perhaps he has a point. Ian Fleming was born in 1908, before women in England could vote. He died in 1964 before the equal pay act.
Times change, and with them our cultural values.
Do we really want a female James Bond in the 2020s? Why not a different hero, every bit as smart and sexy, fit and capable. Why not a warrior for justice with emotions and feelings and a moral compass?
What do you think?
Spike would like to know.
Described* as ‘an audacious, female-led thriller which took the disposable women of the James Bond franchise and flipped the concept entirely on its head.’ Fiona Erskine’s debut thriller “The Chemical Detective” is published by the Oneworld imprint, Point Blank Books, available in all good bookshops and online here.
Book 2 in the Jaq Silver series will be published in April 2020. Pre-order here.