I’m a feminist and I’m a Bond fan. I don’t think you need to be a feminist to see that all of the books and parts of all the films are horribly sexist. The books are very racist in parts too. They’re still exciting, fast-paced adventure stories and I think it’s possible to enjoy the books and the films while not enjoying the racism and sexism.
Skyfall spoilers follow
I read this Giles Coren piece yesterday, and honestly, I think it’s garbage. Why do I think it’s garbage? Because it’s full of inaccuracies and misinterpretations.
In short, there is a young woman in this film whom Bond correctly identifies (in his smug, smart-arse way) as a sex-worker who was kidnapped and enslaved as a child by human traffickers. She is now a brutalised and unwilling gangster’s moll. She gives no sign of being sexually interested in Bond, merely of being incredibly scared and unhappy. So he creeps uninvited into her hotel shower cubicle later that night, like Jimmy Savile, and silently screws her because he is bored.
Yes, it is disclosed that Severine (she has a name although Giles Coren doesn’t bother to give it) was stolen, trafficked and enslaved as a sex-worker, and that she is now trapped and used by the villain of the film. But she gives every sign of being sexually interested in Bond, giving him her cabin number and the location of the boat she is on and asking him to visit her if he survives the baddies in the casino who are trying to kill him. As the boat departs we see her alone in her cabin, with a bottle of champagne on ice and two glasses, disappointed as the boat leaves without Bond joining her. She gives her location to Bond, she asks him to join her, she is obviously disappointed as the boat leaves without him getting there, and it is a boat, not a hotel. Did Giles Coren actually watch the film? When Bond eventually arrives on the boat, not a hotel room because it’s a boat, not a hotel, he joins her in the shower. We don’t know if he “silently screws her because he is bored.” We can assume, although it is not seen, that the pair have sex, but we have no idea if Bond is bored, or silent, and we have no reason to think that Severine doesn’t want the sex. Now, in real life I would be the first to say that an invitation to visit someone is not an invitation to sex, but this is not real life, it is a Bond film.
That is vile enough. And totally out of keeping, I’d have thought, with Daniel Craig’s Bond. But it gets much worse when she is later tied up with a glass of whisky on her head in a hilarious William Tell spoof, and shot dead in a game devised by the baddie. We knew already knew the baddie was bad, so there was no plot developing element here. It was merely disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn (like when Roger Moore torpedoed the beautiful girl in the helicopter in The Spy Who Loved Me and then joked about it – a scene from which it has taken me 35 years to recover).
The ‘new’ Bond’s immediate response to the killing of a tragic, abused, indentured slave woman is to say, “waste of good scotch” (this must be the ‘humour’ Daniel Craig said he was keen to put back into the role) and then kill everyone. He could have done it three minutes before and saved her. But that wouldn’t have been as funny, I guess.
The first paragraph quoted here, I agree with. The murder of Severine is brutal, exploitative and probably unnecessary to the plot. The second – well, I don’t know. The “waste of good Scotch” remark is distasteful, but it’s true to the character. Bond is emotionally stunted. He has no roots, no ties, no loyalty to anyone. His only feelings are his feelings of devotion to his duty to his country and therefore to his boss, M. His country uses him as a killing machine. If he does have feelings, or emotions, or weaknesses, he can’t show them, especially not in front of a gang of men who want to kill him. The main villain, Silva, who obviously knows all these things about Bond, has just spent ten minutes telling Bond how they have both been badly treated by M and how M has lied to Bond. It’s clear he expects Bond to be devastated by this – he wants Bond to turn traitor and join Silva in trying to kill M. Bond’s tasteless quip is a sign that he is unmoved, unemotional and not weak in front of enemies- he hasn’t been affected by what Silva has told him and he hasn’t been affected by the murder of Severine. The murder and the quip are nasty, but in picking this as an example of how terribly awful the film is and how terribly sensitive Coren is, Coren is missing the entire essence of the character as written by Ian Fleming and as depicted in the films. James Bond is not a nice man. He’s an efficient assassin who has either shut off his emotions to be good at his job, or been good at his job because his emotions were already shut off.
And now the last whine from Giles Coren.
I am ashamed, as a man, that women are still compelled in the 21st century to watch movies in which the three female outcomes are:1) Judi Dench’s ‘M’ dies, and is replaced by a man;2) The young abuse victim is shagged by Bond and then killed for a joke; and
3) The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste despite Bond’s ‘charms’ is rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary.
Judi Dench has done 7 Bonds. She can’t go on forever, and if Judi Dench doesn’t want to do more Bonds, then M has to be written out. She went out fighting, helping Bond and Kincaid to kill all the bad guys. Yes, they’ve replaced her with a man, but even though I loved having a female M, perhaps it was time for a change.
The young abuse victim makes it very clear that she wants Bond. He could have turned up, killed her captors and carted her off to therapy, but that’s not a Bond film. I wish they hadn’t killed her character, and if she had to die, I wish it hadn’t been in such a powerless, nasty way. I even would have liked it more if he’d rescued her, and then she’d turned out to be a double agent portraying herself as a victim to inspire Bond to rescue her so she could turn against him and work for Silva. There are lots of things I don’t like about how the character was written, But it’s nonsense to suggest that Severine didn’t have agency in her sexual interactions with Bond. She wanted him and she was disappointed when she thought she wasn’t going to get him.
But Giles Coren’s last point up there is the worst of all. I’m really not sure he watched the film. “The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste” (who also has a name – Eve Moneypenny) actually shags Bond. It’s not seen, but it’s pretty obvious it has taken place, not least because of the content of their conversation the next time they meet. And “rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary” is also inaccurate. It’s made clear throughout the film that she’s a field agent who although competent hasn’t enjoyed her time on active duty and is choosing to move to a desk job. And she’s not Bond’s secretary. She’s M’s personal private secretary, which implies she has the skills, knowledge, competence and confidence to hold such a high level post in a demanding organisation. I think what his remarks here show is that Giles Coren a) thinks admin jobs (which are predominantly female), no matter how high-level, are meaningless and can be handed out to anyone rather than requiring a person of skill and competence, and b) doesn’t bother to pay attention to what the female characters say or do, who they are or even what their names are.
Bond is racist, sexist, emotionally stunted, would be very unpleasant to know in real life, and is fictional. Giles Coren isn’t that far behind him in the sexism stakes, but he is a real person.