Gary Raymond asks is the lack of attention to the female roles in the new James Bond movie the most important statement made by cinema this year?
The James Bond movie franchise is the most successful cinematic endeavour in the history of the world, and the new instalment, SPECTRE, continues to break all sorts of records at the box office, including the eclipse of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for opening weekend returns. On top of that, the Bond films are now 2 hour-plus adverts for uber-status symbols; the movies are dripping with gold. Bond has more capital pumped into it, is more a part of the economy of the global elite, than any other movie could hope for. And yet it is willfully deficient in the most crucial of areas. Yes, it’s The Female Factor.
SPECTRE is soon to be referred to as a ‘phenomenon’; well-respected movie critics are showering it with five star reviews; well-respected broadcasters have been seen jumping from office windows at the suggestion Daniel Craig may decide to return to the RSC rather than carry on in the title role – at least one Dimbleby has already joined a Buddhist monastery in southern California. In every way SPECTRE is so huge it would seem the only appropriate way to continue writing this article would be to bump up the font size to 72.
So you might be forgiven for thinking that something so enormous might carry with it a sense of responsibility when it comes to social equality, or at the very least, not handing over the job of writing the female dialogue to a magic 8 ball. For all that was poured into SPECTRE not once was a single female character given a single decent line of dialogue, and not once was a single line of that dialogue given over to anything other than reiterating something about Bond’s rather dull character. This is not simply the Bechdel Test roundly failed, it is a movie where women with excellent careers and positions of authority talk like morons. Three women characters, two portrayed by a couple of European cinema’s most brilliant actresses in Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, utterly wasted, worshiping at the temple of James, talking like teenagers. And the problem is not Bond’s character – the fact he is a hero who treats women appallingly is frankly the most interesting aspect of his character. Change that and you might as well have Hamlet say, “To be or not to be; I think I have it sorted, actually.”
It used to be about dated sexual politics, but now it’s about the complexities of the type of person who might take on such responsibilities as Bond does. You may not like him, but you’ll be glad he’s on your side when a massive Ukrainian hitman comes to smash your head through a wall.
No, the issue is in the utter contempt for the female actors, as exemplified in the lack of attention paid to their characters. What, for the love of [insert deity here], are the conversations like in script meetings when Moneypenny’s lines are discussed?
Moneypenny: You have a secret, James. One that nobody else knows.
Script Editor: Hang on. She sounds like a moron. She says he has a secret and then defines what a secret is.
Sam Mendes: Sorry, what? I was eating a cake.
Later on we are expected to believe that Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swan, a therapist so talented and qualified she has managed to get a job in a clinic at which appointments are kept most easily by helicopter or ski-lift, decides to break off her romance with Bond just as he is heading out the door to save the world. “I can’t do this, James. It’s not you, it’s me.” Bad timing? Well, you know what silly women are like.
In the first Craig movie, Casino Royale, a very fine movie indeed, signs were good; Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd was a strong and interesting character, one that drew the eye not just because of physical beauty and glamour, but because as a character she had depth, she had good lines, she had been written with care and craft, and ultimately, when Bond lost her, the audience felt the loss. Rarely has such attention been paid to female roles in Bond movies before (Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one), and certainly nothing like it since (Judi Dench is yet another under-written example, only Dench is so good with duff lines you may not realise it).
SPECTRE itself is a little stale for all its energy, a well-choreographed repetition of the previous three Daniel Craig movies, a fairly entertaining 200 minute reiteration of everything that came before, and offers absolutely no new element to a 50 year old franchise. The film is good, if quite forgettable. It is clear Eva Green’s performance, and the script she was given, was the reason that Casino Royale is the best Bond movie. And by that I mean, it is the best Bond movie. But the best movies always have more than one character. And you can’t be a great movie when the script is so inept whenever a woman opens her mouth.
So how does this happen? How does a movie that has hundreds of millions of dollars put into it (and will generate a billion in response) have such a fundamental flaw? The answer is simple – giving women good lines is neither here nor there to the makers of the film. It won’t affect the profits and it doesn’t affect the brand. None of the secondary male characters are brushed off with such dreadful lines as those given to Seydoux, Bellucci or Naomi Harris. It is a statement of focus and priorities. The filmmakers don’t care about women, not as actors, characters, or audience members. And the box office vindicates them. This is why SPECTRE is the most important movie of the year – it tells us where we are. Bond, the largest movie franchise in history could have created female characters who speak like actual women, without undermining Bond’s heroic fantasy status. But it didn’t have to.