james bond

It’s James Bond who needs to be shaken and stirred, not the actor who will play him

Who should play British agent 007 on the screen? Is that the real question?

As someone who has recently taken to reading Ian Fleming’s books, I am drawn into the debate surrounding Joanna Lumley’s comments about actor Idris Elba not being the James Bond that Fleming created.

Film writer Caspar Salmon’s column in the Guardian made several valid points. The most persuasive being that we should abandon the “emotionless character that belongs to a grotesque tradition”. Bond is a “hero” who is heterosexist, misogynistic, and racist – so inherent in 1954’s Live and Let Die that getting beyond the first chapter proved too much for this reader – more needs to be done than just another change of actor.

Yet the “who-will-be-the-next-Bond” discussions never stop. According to the press, Elba is equally not interested, a contender, and a sure thing. We’ve even had a “Jane Bond” social media campaign which saw Gillian Anderson throwing her metaphorical hat in the ring.

Given that the creative minds behind the BBC’s Doctor Who – a series predicated on the doctor’s ability to regenerate, which gives completely free reign over the actor who is cast – have managed to reincarnate the good Doctor a mere 13 times as a white man, do the chances of real diversity seem beyond even science fiction, let alone upper-class Cold War imperialism?

The eternal playboy

Historian Tim Stanley argues that to give Bond “breasts” would be to “lose the magic behind the character” – so we can safely assume that Bond is merely a powerful metaphorical penis. In keeping what have become the stock symbols – the fast cars, expensive suits, the Martinis and the exotic locations with their equally exotic women – the films have arguably become more one-dimensional than the novels. Books which, for all their issues, can still be located within a different social and historical context. So what is our excuse now?

In the conclusion of 2015 film Spectre, there is an inevitability to which the final shot – of Bond and Madeline Swann walking across London Bridge – seems fated to result in the kind of brutality with which Teresa di Vincenzo met her abrupt end in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963). In the novel, if not as explicitly on screen, Bond’s joy at the planning of his future wedded bliss extends to the imagined home-making in his London flat, long and loving phone conversations between them as he works to bring down super-villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the growing awareness that his life finally holds richer meaning.

Play
Spectre (2015).

Teresa, like Madeline, was Bond’s match: flighty, adventurous, fearless, daughter of a high-ranking criminal with an understanding of the necessity for “real men” to carry concealed weapons. Both women are victims of their own violent pasts – they are strong but need rescuing from themselves. Bond, however, has to be a playboy, he can save them, avenge them even, but he cannot be “tamed” by them.

Self-destruction

Spoof spy character Austin Powers ridiculed the constant disruption of the spy’s romantic bliss in the beginning of The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). His new wife turned out to be a fem-bot, which must self-destruct or risk bringing down the spy himself. Even Judi Dench, after 20 years as M, met her end as a foolish female victim – how could the head of the secret intelligence service inexplicably use a torch on a dark Highland escape? Forget a female Bond when so few of the women in the films last beyond the end credits.

Perhaps the bigger question is not who should play the next Bond but why haven’t we moved on? Looking back at the original stories, and even ignoring the problematic 1950s cultural landscape, they are a mixed bag. Some are gripping, well-paced and thrilling, others loose and unwieldy, slow or confusing. Casino Royale (1953) is almost entirely focused on a card game that no one understands any more (when not playing cards, Bond is busy calling Vesper Lynd a “bitch”). Moonraker (1955) takes place in Dover not California, Venice or Rio. There are episodes in which even Bond is bored; chapters where he sits at his desk and complains about paperwork, moving it from in-box to out-tray.

Play
Moonraker (1979).

All of this is a far-cry from the jet-setting man of mystery in our cultural imagination – the whirlwind of cocktails and casual sex, heightened by theatrically high kicks and slow-motion punches, casual Western imperialism, and upper-class patriarchy. More important than who will play him, is the question of why we have unnaturally prolonged the life of Ian Fleming’s spy.

Guardian readers were quick to call Salmon’s assertion that Bond is effectively the same age as Prince Philip unfair, and they’ve got a point. We don’t hold Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to their fictional birth dates. We do, however, recognise the need to update the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, taking the essence of their detection and applying it in modern ways. Bond, on the other hand, has all the latest gadgetry, new global enemies, and even an invisible car, but his “essence” has sadly stayed the same.

Nicola Bishop, Senior Lecturer in English/Film and Television, Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.