As the long-delayed No Time to Die hits our screens, it marks a turning point for the Bond franchise: Daniel Craig is hanging up his tuxedo and Omega Seamaster watch for good.
But while fans have long known that this latest cavort with guns, women and villains would be Craig’s last, what the actor told the Radio Times in recent days may have come as a surprise.
In conversation with series producer Barbara Broccoli, Craig rejected the idea of the international man of mystery being played by a woman.
“There should simply be better parts for women and actors of colour,” he said. “Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?”
By contrast, back in 2019, in the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Craig had told The Mirror that he thought a woman could play 007.
“Everybody should be considered,” he said, adding: “For women and for African-Americans, there should be great parts anyway, across the board.”
Many argue that the Bond films now have a responsibility to reflect modern society and values, with a 21st-century 007 who moves away from the arse-slapping penchants of his predecessors.
Much has changed since the Bonds of Sean Connery, beating up and forcing himself on women, and Roger Moore, pushing “midgets” into suitcases and giving Indian locals money to “keep them in curry”.
As Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond novels, puts it, the Craig era has “given us Woke 007, who’s tender, cries and gets into the shower in his tuxedo to comfort a woman”.
At the same time, there has been widespread celebration of Lashana Lynch’s casting as a double-0 agent, Naomie Harris’s more forthright take on Moneypenny, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s involvement as a writer in the new film.
But Craig’s latest rejection of a female Bond is right.
The character owes no social or political debt to society; 007 doesn’t represent or perpetuate any “truth”, because his pumped machismo is about as real as his laser microphone — this is entertainment, not instruction.
The point of Bond is that he is a good-looking man with whom women leap into bed even when they know he’ll be gone in the morning.
The issue is not can a woman play Bond, but why should she?
The recent success of (say) Jodie Comer’s antihero Villanelle in Killing Eve on the small screen, and Jennifer Lawrence’s femme fatale Dominika Egorova in Red Sparrow on the big one — quite aside from all the female-led superhero films — prove that audiences have no problem with women playing rough, tough, traditionally “macho” roles. (When the script is intelligent, even little girls can be action heroes: think of Natalie Portman shooting up bad guys in Léon at 13 years of age.)
But instead of celebrating new and exciting productions on their own merits, there’s a tendency to want to be seen to paint all “traditional” or “old-fashioned” portrayals of society as harmful.
“There are certain things attached to Bond,” warned Higson, “of which we would say: ‘No, you can’t do that any more.’”
Well, why not? Even if Craig’s 007 had been as ready with the sexist quips as Connery’s or Moore’s, would that have incited cinemagoers to revert to 1950s gender stereotypes?
Have we lost faith in people being able to distinguish between the fiction on screen and the fact of how they should behave once the lights come up?
There is one particular hypocrisy to the “modern Bond” brigade: they claim to be breaking with problematic norms, yet they rarely suggest mediocre-looking stars as replacements.
It doesn’t matter whether Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, James Norton or Regé-Jean Page is chosen — the point is that they’re all impossibly attractive.
So are Margot Robbie (on whom bookmakers took a rush of “next Bond” bets in 2016) and Charlize Theron (whose candidacy has been backed by fellow actor Chris Hemsworth).
That part of the fantasy is apparently acceptable. (Bob Hoskins might have wowed audiences as a proper British tough guy in The Long Good Friday, but even he didn’t have the suave arrogance to make it into MI6. )
A 007 who truly reflected modern society would be a millennial with a paunch, who couldn’t get out of bed to fight the villains until he’d had an Alka-Seltzer.
Bond’s hyper-masculinity is a dream, and an entertaining one. It has no bearing on or consequence for the success of women’s liberation, or men’s emotional awareness in the outside world. A world of film engaged in trying to “correct” its characters is a world that has too few original ideas. Leave Bond alone.
© Ella Whelan / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2021
Telegraph Media Group Limited