James Bond and ‘timeshifting’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week, 007 film fans studied the words of Bond 25 screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge very carefully after she had given an interview to Deadline: Hollywood.

The Bond films, she said, have “got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character.”

Fans debated whether Waller-Bridge’s remarks were “politically correct” or not. On social media there were pretty intense comments on both sides of the argument.

In a way, though, Waller-Bridge’s interview points up something else — issues with “timeshifting” a character.

James Bond was created in early 1952 when Ian Fleming wrote the first draft of Casino Royale at his winter home in Jamaica. Winston Churchill was prime minister of the U.K. Harry S. Truman was president of the United States. By the time Fleming wrote his last Bond novel in early 1964, Alec Douglas-Home was the PM and Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

In short, Bond’s original era was a long time ago. So for decades now, 007 has been timeshifted in the movies. A number of Bond continuation novels (including John Gardner’s and Raymond Benson’s) also used the timeshifting technique, although more recent books (including two by Anthony Horowitz) have been done as period pieces.

Threading the Needle

Part of this may be commercial. Making Bond films as period stories set in the 1950s or ’60s might hold down the box office. Presumably, it would be harder to make product placement deals for period piece 007 films.

At the same time, taking a character created more than 60 years ago and placing him in a modern setting has its own issues. Those associated with the Eon series like to say they’re set “five minutes in the future.” That means Bond films have to acknowledge, at least on some level, how the world has changed in the 21st century.

As a result, making a Bond movie today involves threading the needle — keeping Bond true to his roots while adjusting to current realities.

In doing so, the Eon camp sometimes comes down pretty hard on its meal ticket.

“But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Daniel Craig said of Bond during a 2015 interview with something called The Red Bulletin. (The original link is gone, but the blog did a 2015 post about it as did entertainment outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter.) “(W)e’ve surrounded him with very strong women who have no problem putting him in his place.”

4 Responses

  1. I’m just so sick of this issue. Everyone is so damn sensitive. Just read the complaints about Bond films written by people of my generation posted on Letterboxd.com, “Toxic Masculinity”, “Misogyny”, and frequent accusations of rape. I also get sick of hearing about the “slow pacing” of the early 60’s film’s. Thunderball has the pacing of running molasses but From Russia With Love ? The action of that film is nearly non-stop. I suppose such complaints are understandable when have generation raised by vacuous Superhero films that have an ASL of two seconds.

  2. Bond is supposed to be a paid government killer. That’s his primary directive. Yes, he’s also an investigator, but in the end he’s paid to take the shot. Everything else is tangential. I disagree with Craig that 007 is a mysoginist. He truly fell in love with Vesper – not the MO of a mysoginist. I think the biggest change in Bond in the last fifty plus years is the fact that the series is anchored in gritty realism – no space travel, invisible cars or stupid humor. That makes the series viable and competitive with Bourne, Mission Impossible et al.

  3. the Spy Command Article is spot-on. The Bond Character has evolved over the Decades, and the women in Bond films have reached equal standing especially as operatives since ”THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” (1977) today that trend continues.

  4. “…. the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character.”

    The Fans who’ve supported Bond all these years (and paid the money at the box office!!) deserve to get the kind of Bond they want. They have a lot of actor (types) from which to choose. A certain kind of Fan does enjoy period pieces (just like reading classic literature) because they understand the context from which it was created. And it wouldn’t make sense to rewrite those works (just) to meet today’s standards. That’s what sequels are all about.

    Bond (the project) has an interesting challenge. To honor the qualities Fans enjoy most, hopefully while adding a twist of elegance, that doesn’t leave Fans insulted in the process. This comment is a good indication. “(We’ve surrounded him with very strong women who have no problem putting him in his place.”

    In truth the people producing Bond are in the business of making money. They have to gauge the percentage of original (and sustaining) Fans while creating new ones. That’s the real trick! When Craig’s contract ends, making Bond relevant might be a story unto itself.But do so with genuine (and intelligent) purpose behind the effort!

    The Man from UNCLE movie (2015) is a good example of attempting to reward original (and sustaining) Fans through the reinvention of the characters for a contemporary audience within the UNCLE universe. Turned out to be an “interesting” experience (I think a little more depth was needed) so the movie just had to be appreciated for what it was (the action & scenery). Fifty years is a long time to wait for anything!!

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