The Great Debate: should the character of James Bond be female?

The National's Katy Gillett and Farah Andrews discuss this trending topic

Undated handout photo issued by EON Productions on Tuesday Nov. 14, 2006 shows Daniel Craig as the latest James Bond in the new Bond film Casino Royale which will premiere in London Tuesday evening. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip will be among the audience watching Craig make his screen debut as the British secret agent 007.   (AP Photo/EON Productions/PA)  ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES, NO ONLINES **
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Some subjects need to be debated, so every week we'll invite two contributors armed with opinions to thrash out some of the day's most contentious topics. This week: should Ian Fleming's titular character, James Bond, be made female in the movies?

Katy Gillett: There have been some interesting arguments around this topic recently. While I'm all for introducing more female-led storylines, I'm not convinced we need to change stories that already exist. In the case of Doctor Who, for example, the character is ambiguous. In this case, James Bond is a man, no matter what way we look at it.

Farah Andrews: It certainly is an interesting debate, Katy. For me, it boils down to, 'Why not?' We have had a male Bond for 26 films (including No Time to Die), and seven actors, such as Sean Connery, who have all added something new to the role and brought it forward, so seeing a female interpretation of the famed spy would bring an entirely new angle to the role, and I am here for that.

KG: I absolutely agree that it's time for a change. The character of Bond has been played by solely white men so far, so there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. But what it boils down to, for me, is that Ian Fleming's novels – working on the premise the movie(s) in question is based on these – created a male character called James Bond. Moving on from that would mean changing the narrative altogether.

Sean Connery with one of the two Aston Martin DB5 cars used in the filming of 'Goldfinger'. Rex
Sean Connery with one of the two Aston Martin DB5 cars used in the filming of 'Goldfinger'. Rex

FA: Yes, it is a traditionally male name, but I am sure I don't need to remind you that Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have a daughter called James! [Laughs.] The argument that the films need to stay true to Fleming's original description doesn't stand up in 2019. Fleming has said of the character, 'I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument.' So, if we insist on being Bond purists, surely a tiny-trunk-wearing Daniel Craig doesn't fit the 'extremely dull' bill?

The question isn't about rewriting past Bond, but bringing the story forward

KG: That's a fair point. And I do want to make something clear here: I believe that the James Bond narrative needs to catch up with our times. For example, the character's treatment of women, historically speaking, is – for want of a better word – embarrassing. Writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge has already said she will address this. I think what would be more interesting is introducing a new angle altogether, as has been suggested with Lashana Lynch potentially taking over the spy number 007, rather than changing the character of Bond.

FA: But doesn't that feel like a bit of a cop out? Geoffrey Moore, the son of Roger Moore, has said that whoever is cast should be 'right for the job' and I agree with that, but I also agree that an entire franchise should not be changed just to bow to public pressure. My favourite things about Bond aren't his womanising or perceived masculinity, but his quick-wit, out-smarting of super-villains, passion for gadgets and ludicrous ability to hold tight atop a moving train. None of those skills are 'male'.

MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA - APRIL 25:  Cast member Lashana Lynch attends the "Bond 25" film launch at Ian Fleming's home "GoldenEye" on April 25, 2019 in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)
Will Lashana Lynch be the next 007? Getty

KG: But, if it isn't broke …

FA: Surely, the fact that people are even debating this means it is broke? Clearly people are ready to see something new from James Bond.

KG: Another thing that concerns me is the rewriting of these storylines and, essentially (but not so dramatically), rewriting history.

FA: Rewriting history? Calm down!

KG: Hah! I hadn't finished! Again, why can't we just write a new story? We have plenty of amazing female-led TV shows and films – Killing Eve, Fleabag, Captain Marvel – and these are much better examples of female empowerment on our screens. I wonder if people are worried such a film won't receive the same acclaim as the male-led ones do …


Read more:

Pierce Brosnan on a female Bond: 'Get out of the way, guys'


FA: I do completely agree that we don't want Ghostbusters 2.0, and I also don't want a female Bond to be a box ticked in a figurative 'shut the feminists up' sense. You have listed three fantastic, powerful, smart and entertaining female-led projects, but they have all been created and released in the last three years. Men have had Bond to enjoy and look up to on screen since 1962. If we had that same 57-year history of powerful female characters on screen, we wouldn't be pondering the impact of a female Bond and having this debate at all.

KG: It's hard to argue with that, but that is indicative of a much wider problem than Bond being male. The issue is women – and anyone other than white men – have not historically been represented enough in art, not just films, but also visual art, literature, music, etc. Does that mean we need to change more decades-old blockbuster franchises? Or do we address the issue that new stories about women still only have a narrow appeal (i.e. among women)? Also, let's just both agree that having Idris Elba as Bond would be a win for anyone.

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, actor-director Idris Elba poses for a portrait to promote his film "Yardie" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. On Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, Elba was named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)
There were rumours that Idris Elba would take over as the new Bond. AP

FA: I mean, yes! Let's all back Idris Elba over Taron Egerton for Bond number eight. The question isn't about rewriting past Bond, but bringing the story forward. The manners, language and behaviour of an earlier 1960s, '70s and '80s Bond is representative of the time. Not every man was out womanising, philandering and taking part in high-speed car chases in Aston Martins, but there was certainly a more favourable view of traditional masculinity at that time. I'd like to hope that, for the general masses, that view has progressed somewhat. If a female Bond was cast now, I hope that move would be more representative of this period in time, when it is looked back upon in the future.


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A replica of James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 has sold for $6.4 million


KG: We both know the future is female, but what we're ultimately seeking here is balance and equality. On a Quora forum I read this: 'James Bond is a sort of a hero for men. We want to dress like him, fight like him, and drive the cars he drives.' That's worrying, considering the undesirable personality traits. What we really need for Bond is a different sort of male playing this role, and another character, a female, to counterbalance this on-screen.
An Elba or Egerton next to a Lynch is the perfect antidote. We need a Bond who is a much better role model and
'hero' to men than the one we've had up until now.

FA: As long as there are strong female role models on screen, for little girls to look up to and admire, the way boys have long-admired Bond, I am happy. And if that has to start with Lynch as 007, it is certainly a step in the right direction, which is probably all we're going to get from Hollywood for the time being.