Friday, March 18, 2022

The 007 Women, Pierce Brosnan Style - How Beauty, Brains and Erotism Can Get Along Very Well

The physical beauty of the James Bond girls always comes up whenever we discuss the 60-year-old franchise. Apart from the gun barrel sequence, the 007 gun logo, the tuxedo and the silenced Walther PPK, probably two of the most iconic images associated with the saga are related to women: Ursula Andress coming out of the water in a white bikini and a belt holding a hunting knife, or Shirley Eaton’s dead body painted in gold, originated in
Dr No (1962) and Goldfinger (1964), are continually bought back in magazines or TV sketches and cartoons parodying the saga. 

Bond’s womanizing was fully exploited in the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, with many ladies turning their eyes to the secret agent as he walked through the lobby of a five-star hotel. There was always a “harem” of ten or twelve girls that barely interacted with him, but they had the purpose of spicing up the interest of the male audience: geishas in You Only Live Twice (1967), astronaut trainees in Moonraker (1979) and circus acrobats in Octopussy (1983), to name some examples. George Lazenby mingled with a couple of patients on the villain’s “clinic”, but he was best remembered as the Bond who married and tragically lost his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), while Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence To Kill (1989) gave us the least sexualized Bond films until the recent No Time To Die (2021), which concluded Daniel Craig’s reboot era initiated with 2006’s Casino Royale.

So, how can we describe Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond cycle, extending from GoldenEye in 1995 to Die Another Day in 2002 –not forgetting the original video games 007 Nightfire (2002) and 007 Everything or Nothing (2004)– in terms of womanizing? As a very good, pleasant mix between erotism and romance.

"The Next Girl". Xenia Onatopp chalenges
Bond to race her in the treacherous mountain
roads of Monaco, to Caroline's disgust.

The fifth Bond actor has a particular predilection for well-educated women. In his three first films he seduces some kind of schooled girl: MI6 therapist Caroline (Serena Gordon) in GoldenEye, to convince her to write a good report to the new M after he recklessly tried to race a red Ferrari driven by a beautiful girl; Oxford professor Inga Bergstrom (Cecile Thomsen), who has a particular way of teaching Danish which involves a bed and intimate contact with 007; and Dr Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas) whom Bond "bribes" with sex to have a clean bill of health. One could think of these women as people who have burned their eyelids for years in a library to get their precious doctorates. The type who focused way too much on their career until Bond appeared, showing them a world outside academia. It is important to note that 007 was hardly emotionally involved with professional women, unless we count army careers, until the late 1970s and early 1980s: Holly Goodhead was an astronaut, Melina Havelock an archaeologist, Stacey Sutton a geologist. The 1990s films followed this trend of making us notice the modern Bond girls had a life other than dealing with crime (Pussy Galore and Tiffany Case), esoterism (Solitaire) or simply living out of villain as their kept women (Domino Derval, Andrea Anders, Jill Masterson).

As he seduces Caroline and Dr Warmflash, Bond uses his sex to achieve a goal: being declared apt for active service. While it could be argued that this is not a gentlemanly thing to do, the moment feels romantic and Brosnan’s delicate moves and soft voice are visibly different to a somewhat similar situation in Thunderball (1965), where Bond seduces Pat Fearing (Molly Peters) after an “accident” (actually the work of SPECTRE agent Count Lippe) could have killed him due to her negligence. While both moments are comparable –a compromising situation, unethical actions, insinuation of sex– you never feel that Brosnan’s Bond is taking advantage of the girl, unlike what happened with Sean Connery in the Terence Young film.

Bond and Natalya escape from an explosion.
At this point of the film, she got used to this
long before he appeared in her life.

The leading ladies of these films are built over contrasts. GoldenEye has Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen joining the new Bond: Scorupco plays Natalya Simonova, a computer programmer whose life is threatened after witnessing the thief of the dangerous satellite weapon the film is titled after. Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp, a former KGB agent and Soviet fighter pilot who enjoys murdering her targets during lovemaking.

We first meet the bad girl, Xenia, driving a red Ferrari 355 challenging Bond to a race over a winding mountain road in Monaco. He later encounters her playing baccarat at the Casino de Monte Carlo. She is completely luxurious, flaunting her fortune, suggestively smoking a cigar and with palpable sexual energy. People who watched the recent Netflix production, Inventing Anna, could find a slight rescemblance between her and the Russian scammer, in the sense of two women suffering shortage in their countries during their childhood and living the luxury and goods of the West in full as soon as they had the opportunity, something already represented by Daniel Kleinman's main title sequence for the film.

It is thanks to Xenia that we have the very first sex scene in a James Bond movie, not with him but with one of her victims – one she kills in a tide of passion, crushing him with her strong tighs. Her dresses, mostly black, always show her cleavage. There’s something in her that says “tempting”, “evil”, “dangerous”. On the other hand, Natalya, the good girl who leads the story, is completely benevolent: one of the least glamorous girls in the series, most of the time she wears the same outfit: alight blue cardigan, a cream shirt and a black skirt. As a frightened victim, she isn’t initially too open to Bond until she confirms he is on her side and her only hope. While we can imagine in Xenia being the “Queen Bee”, Natalya is the shy nerdy girl: the only time we see her looking dashing, she is on a Caribbean beach with 007 wearing a La Perla white bikini and, when she makes love to Bond, everything looks tender and romantic: we get to see a post-coital moment, barely lit by the fire of the hearth, which is incredibly calm considering the film’s fast pacing. To make things more romantic, she even worries that Bond may mean nothing to her. This is the polar opposite of Bond’s steamy moments with Xenia in a sauna room, where she tries to crush him with her legs and it all becomes a sadomasochistic dance where the secret agent’s biggest fight isn’t with the woman, but with her strong sexual magnetism and his feelings as a man.

In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), both of the main girls are on the side of good, but they are far from being equal. Paris Carver, played by Teri Hatcher, is the wife of the media mogul villain portrayed by Jonathan Pryce. She is the archetype of the American socialite, enjoying the good life and wealth provided by marrying one of the most powerful men in the world. Wai Lin, the Chinese Intelligence agent played by Michelle Yeoh, wears a silver dress at one point, but seems to be much more comfortable in leather combat gear and carrying an MP5 sub-machinegun in her hand rather than a cup of champagne. Interestingly, we never see her in a bikini or semi-naked at one point, which makes her the less sexualized Bond girl of this era.

A provocative Japanese teaser poster for
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), featuring
Bond kissing Wai Lin and a sexy pose
of Paris Carver.

Paris had a past with James Bond before she met Elliot Carver. Of course, she didn’t forgive Bond for leaving her one day without previous notice and has resented ever since, giving him the slap she has owed him for quite a long time when he reappears in her life, but things aren’t better with Carver. She feels empty, inside a bubble of false security provided by this man, barely noticed and treated as a mere decorative element –exactly the way people have many times perceived the Bond girls to be. Her dissatisfaction reaches its height when Carver sends her to extract information of Bond after the secret agent leaves him off the air during his inaugural speech, not believing the fact that she “barely” knew him. When she visits Bond's hotel room in Hamburg, we see what is probably the most suggestive moment in the series: the secret agent slowly undresses her, letting her black Ocimar Versolato dress falling to the floor. The way he does it an important connotation: Bond is freeing her, stripping her off that armour of false security given by her marriage with Carver. She doesn’t live too long, but she can feel like a woman again before the media tycoon exacts revenge.

Wai Lin isn’t initially too open to collaborating with James Bond: in separate ways, both infiltrate Carver’s offices in Hamburg. While he is avoiding gunfire from the security guards and fighting anyone coming at him, she just rappels down with one of her little gadgets, mockingly waving her hand as he spots her. Both are captured moments later, when they coincide exploring the wreckage of the HMS Devonshire warship, sunk under the villain’s orders. They have a perfect coordination as they escape Carver's hitmen through the streets of Saigon, on a motorbike while being handcuffed to each other. Nevertheless, she prefers to work alone and abandons Bond. When he saves her from several mercenaries she finally agrees that they should join forces to go after Carver together. She provides equipment for 007, an array of gadgets and even a new Walther, the P99 model. This girl fulfils a function generally attributed to the people of London, which gives her particular importance we haven’t seen before as Bond was always armed by the people at Q Branch or through an ally, like Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice. It isn’t until the very last moment of the film, where both are floating on the wreckage of the villain’s Stealth Boat, that they decide to “stay undercover” from the rescue boats and kiss.

"Don't go. Stay with me". Elektra King gets 
romantic with Bond, but he knows he has
a lot to investigate first.

The World Is Not Enough (1999) delighted us with the European exoticism of Sophie Marceau and the sympathy of America’s sweetheart Denise Richards. While we are describing the actresses, these words could also describe the characters: oil tycoon and businesswoman Elektra King and IDA nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones, both with very different manners and styles. Elektra King is in many aspects a deconstruction of Tracy Di Vicenzo: she is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who enjoys different kinds of thrills, from winter sports to losing a fortune at a casino table. Like Tracy, Bond’s mission involves staying close to her and acting as some kind of a guardian. Unlike Tracy, she is the film’s main antagonist and we learn later that she orchestrated the death of her father and seduced her former captor, terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle), to carry on her plan of provoking a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul, which would turn out in an increse of her pipeline's profit. She lives in a palace-looking residence in Azerbaijan, dresses in the finest silk and looks impressively beautiful on the red dress she wears at the L’Or Noir casino. She is the perfect reflection of a woman who grew up in the manly world of oil business and has a gender-related hidden agenda, secretly resenting her father for overtaking the business of her mother's family. Despite knowing James Bond goes against her plans, she can’t resist sleeping with him and later, when all is said and done, we see she feels disappointed at his apparent death. Renard senses this: “Was he a good lover?”, she bluntly replies: “What did you think? That I’d feel nothing?” referring to the terrorist's sensorial incapacity, a product of a bullet wound in the head that is slowly killing him. As it has been happening at this point in the series, sex is not shown but insinuated with post-coital moments. The World Is Not Enough offers us the chance to perceive the girl having an intimate moment with Bond and the villain. We see that everything is romantic, idylic and natural with the secret agent, but it’s all completely dull and insipid with the villain. Examples of a woman being more pleased with Bond than with the antagonist abound in the series, but this one has the distinction of having the woman being the main villain and showing her sexual satisfaction with the enemy and dissatisfaction with her co-conspirator, who was basically a tool for her intentions.

Don't judge her by her looks –
Christmas Jones has saved
Bond's life many times
The World Is Not Enough.

After Elektra’s betrayal, Bond’s love is transferred to Dr Christmas Jones – another professional woman. Richards’ character is a smoking hot nuclear scientist who isn’t comfortable with the constant sexism of her partners, and a name that doesn’t help. Bond seems to appreciate her more than her colleagues: “Don’t make any jokes, I’ve heard them all”, she warns him during their first meeting. “I don’t know any doctor jokes”, he replies. Dr Jones dresses in tank tops, shorts, tennis shoes, white blouses, more sporty wear than the distinguished wardrobe of Elektra. With the strong influence of Sophie Marceau’s role in this movie, it seemed natural that her counterpart would lack the same importance although she is crucial in saving Bond’s life at least two times. While Christmas, just like Natalya, is a civilian, the secret agent never diminishes her or tries to keep her completely out of danger. In a film like Dr No or For Your Eyes Only (1981), Bond always tried to keep ladies out of the business. This time, he never orders her to stay away from the battlefield and treats her as someone whose special knowledge would be useful to foil the enemy plan, another of the big changes the Brosnan era gave in building stronger female characters. After avoiding a huge blast, buzz-saw choppers, drowning and a nuclear explosion in a submarine, Dr Jones celebrates Christmas with James Bond in Istanbul. They make love on a bed as red and green lights, presumably coming from a Christmas tree, are reflected on their naked bodies. “I thought Christmas only came once a year”, Bond allows himself to joke as the film leads us to the end credits.

The franchise entered the new millennium in 2002 with Die Another Day. The film, which would be the cinematic swansong of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, presented one of the most diverse pairings of Bond girls to date: Afro-American Oscar winner Halle Berry and British blonde Rosamund Pike, of Gone Girl fame, in her first big-screen role. In his book Licence To Thrill, author James Chapman notices a “fire and ice” contrast of elements represented by the two girls of the 40th anniversary Bond film. There is also a reversal of loyalties when we compare the other two films that had an interracial pairing of Bond girls, Live And Let Die (1973) and A View To A Kill (1985), the films that opened and closed the Roger Moore era. In this case, the black girl is Bond's ally and the white girl is the vilainess, the exact opposite of what happened in those films.

Jinx showing her beautiful
anatomy to a Bond who has
"missed the touch of a 
good woman"

Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson, played by Berry, is an NSA agent who eventually teams up with Bond on his quest against General Moon, a radicalized North Korean officer threatening the West with a solar-beam based space weapon. She has the tradition of being the first black woman to be completely on Bond’s side, as previous coloured characters like Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) and May Day (Grace Jones) switched sides throughout the films they appeared in. Jinx's appearance in Caribbean waters is a clear nod to Ursula Andress, although her bikini is orange and not white. Orange is a bright, vibrant colour evoking passion, while white evokes pureness – we could see how Honey Ryder was lost in the ways of the world, unlike Jinx who has full control of her actions and acts like a well-trained operative. This subject may be something trivial if it wasn’t for Jinx’s predilection of vivid colours in her clothing, particularly during Gustav Graves’ Ice Palace party in Iceland where all the girls are outfitted in icy gammas to tune in with the surroundings. Jinx wears a bright pink/purple Donatella Versace dress, standing out in the crowd of beauties. She is passionate and open to 007’s feelings, which the film shows by having 007 actually having sex with her on camera. Halle Berry is not only the first Afro-American female lead in Bond film, but also the first to have proper sex with him instead of the usual post-coital moment. Compare her to Miranda Frost, Rosamund Pike’s character: she is an MI6 agent, completely cold towards Bond, as her surname implies. Her sex scene with Bond lacks the ardour he experienced with Jinx, even David Arnold’s music underlining the moment feels “cold” in comparison to the fully orchestrated theme we hear when Brosnan and Berry make love in Cuba. Miranda barely has an expression and has aristocrat antics which are too different to the streetwise Jinx. We can see this in their final showdown, involving cold weapons: the NSA agent wears army fatigues and defends herself with throwing knives and the occasional elbow hit here and there, the MI6 agent winds her sword, using all of her fencing knowledge, and is dressed for the occasion on a black leather sports bra and white pants. An exchange also reveals the different nature of these two women: while Frost comments that Bond was with her last night, Jinx replies: “He did you? I didn’t know he was that desperate”.

But why would these two girls fight? Because Miranda Frost is actually a villain. Much like Alias’ Sydney Bristow, this woman has three identities: (a), Gustav Graves’ publicist and personal assistant, (b) an MI6 agent sent undercover to investigate Graves, and (c) Graves’ long-time accomplice from the days before he adopted –through DNA transplant– the Western facade of Gustav Graves and was Colonel Moon, the man Bond is sent to kill at the beginning of the film. She may be comparable to GoldenEye antagonist Alec Trevelyan, but while the former 006 just staged his death and resurfaced nine years later; Miranda was right there under everyone’s nose and tipping Moon of each of MI6’s movements against him, including a British operation which involved his assassination and the intervention of James Bond.

Miranda Frost threatens Jinx. Die Another Day
saw the first time two Bond girls have a
showdown together.

Twenty years on, the merits of Die Another Day are continually diminished –if not blatantly insulted– considering that the film had to introduce 007 in a post-9/11 world and the story did represent the subjects that were on the media’s agenda back in the early 2000s: people threatening the West from the inside, North Korea being part of the “Axis of Evil”, the prominence of the NSA, just to name a few. Given the popularity of Halle Berry and the successful box office numbers of the Lee Tamahori film, EON planned a spin-off Jinx movie which was even written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and set for a 2004 release. It didn’t get made for multiple reasons and the producers decided to focus on Casino Royale instead. But to this day, no Bond girl got that close to having her own film.

People who grew up with the Pierce Brosnan James Bond adventures on the big screen could enjoy –and control– their Bond through the digital environments of the Electronic Arts video games 007 Nightfire and 007 Everything or Nothing. The former, coinciding with the premiere of Die Another Day, took Bond from Austria to Japan and outer space and had the ace of spies joined by three female spies: French Intelligence agent Dominique Paradis, CIA’s Zoë Nightshade (returning from the 2001 title Agent Under Fire), and Australian operative Alura McCall, not forgetting the treacherous Kiko Hayashi. The latter had a high-sounding Hollywood cast lending their voice and likeness which included Shannon Elizabeth as geologist Serena St Germaine, top model Heidi Klum as the villainous Katya Nadanova and singer Mya as NSA agent Mya Sterling.

The Bond girls of the Pierce Brosnan era were attractive in many ways. They were beautiful and desirable, but also smart and relevant. These characters aren’t afterthoughts and they all carry a function in the film, in two occasions moving the story along and with her stories fully developed. Brosnan’s Bond was so gentlemanly that to date he is the only actor to have accomplished Moneypenny’s dreams, even in a rather dreamy sequence. And while Judi Dench’s M called him “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, she quickly ended up seeing the big picture in Bond’s way over the advice of her analysts. So in a way –a very different way, mind you– it could be said that even M fell for this Bond’s charms.

Straight Up, With A Twist: The Daring Women of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond is out now on Kindle. Click here to order.


Nicolás Suszczyk

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