The Ballad of James and Madeleine

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

“As the daughter of an assassin, she can understand Bond in a way others cannot.”

This is how the official SPECTRE synopsis describes Madeleine Swann, the female lead character of the 24th James Bond adventure, about to hit the stores in DVD and Blu Ray home video formats.

Played by French actress Léa Seydoux, known for movies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the acclaimed Blue is the Warmest Color, her character was built by scribes Jez Butterworth, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan to –- apparently –- give Daniel Craig’s James Bond the first and only happy ending he’s ever had in the series.

The first encounter 007 has with Madeleine Swann is at the Hoffler Klinik in Austria. Posing as a patient, Bond visits her and suspects that Swann, a doctor in psychiatry graduated in the Sorbonne who worked with Medicine Sans Frontiers, is hiding from someone in the clinic. Of course, the secret agent was led there by her disgraced father, none other than his previous Quantum nemesis Mr. White, who took his life right after Bond promised to protect her of the tentacles of SPECTRE.

She first resists to Bond, but ultimately she sees he’s the only one who can keep her alive after her hideout clinic is discovered by SPECTRE agent Mr. Hinx.

Much in the way of previous Bond girls Natalya Simonova (from GoldenEye) and Octopussy, she dislikes 007’s violent life, seeing him as a man who is the same kind as her father: determined to leave him right after he returns for a final assignment to stop Denbigh, the mole placed at the British Intelligence by the organization leader Franz Oberhauser, aka Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

There is, in contrast to the previous affairs of Craig’s Bond, a happy ending this time as 007 opts to leave the wounded Blofeld alive instead of shooting him. As the Special Forces arrest the SPECTRE leader, the happy couple walk together -– holding hands — across the Westminster Bridge.

Madeleine Swann is no match for Vesper Lynd, Tracy Di Vicenzo or even Paris Carver when it comes to exploring Bond’s human side. Yet, the idea of Madeleine’s persona was originally very good and sadly more of her connection with 007 would have been explored a lot better.

“Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows, hunting, being hunted, always looking behind you? Always alone?” the doctor asks a white tuxedo-clad Bond as they have a soft-light dinner travelling in the Oriental Desert Express trough Morocco.

In one of the first drafts of the (leaked) script, the couple had a conversation that included Vesper, Eva Green’s ill-fated character from Casino Royale, the film that opened the arc that SPECTRE has apparently closed.

“You’re not like my father at all. He was cold, but you’re wounded,” the doctor said. As she asks him if he has ever been in love, he replies “Once. She died.” Quickly, he tells her he “dealt with it.”

The Bond-Swann relationship would have had a bigger emotional impact if more deep dialogue was added as the first draft shows. If Vesper Lynd and her death were the main subjects of the first two films of Craig era, the girl who makes him move on should have deep-delved into his emotions.

Show the audiences how Vesper was important then and why Madeleine is important now. A contrast between the two characters and how Bond slowly recovers what he lost during that black day in Venice nine years before. In the same way the connection between SPECTRE and the previous villains isn’t fully explained, the importance of Madeleine can’t overshadow the image of Vesper in an emotional context.

The barn scene between Bond and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or the Pierce Brosnan-Izabella Scorupco scene at the Cuban beach in GoldenEye, or Bond’s love declaration to Vesper at the Lake DiGarda in Casino Royale, just to name a few scenes. These are wonderful examples on how to explore Bond’s feelings.

SPECTRE is a celebration of all things Bond in terms of excitement, perhaps the closest one to “a classic one” so far. Daniel Craig is a wonderful actor and the role now fits him as a tailored Tom Ford tuxedo. Léa Seydoux also has great acting talents as she proved in movies such as The Lobster, Blue is The Warmest Color and La Belle Personne.

The James Bond and Madeleine Swann relationship is not wasted at all. But, surely, should have been better exploited and contextualized.