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The Bond Girl - Her Secret “Formula” and Her Future

Together with Entertainment Weekly (and just in time for the release of No Time To Die), we bring you a video unpacking the Bond Girl. Find out the initial inspiration for the Bond Girl, the three “types” of the trope, and how modern Bond movies are trying to update the formula for today.

TRANSCRIPT

In every Bond movie, there’s the gadgets, the quippy villain with a baroque master plan, and, of course, the “Bond girl.” Over the decades, 007 has had tons of girlfriends, a few combative sexual relationships, and two tragic losses of a woman he actually loved. Many of these women have names that double as sexual innuendo. Most centrally, the Bond girl exists to confirm the fantasy of a hyper-competent, manly British spy who’s irresistible — no matter whether the women he meets are heroes, villains, or something in between, they always want him.

Let’s dig into the history of bond girls — the different ways they fit into the formula, and how modern Bond movies have tried to square Bond’s heart with his job as a stone-cold killer.

The Three Types Of Women You Meet In A Bond Movie

The most famous articulation of the Bond formula comes, surprisingly enough, from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl. In an interview with Playboy, Dahl recounted the guidelines he received from Bond producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman before writingYou Only Live Twice: there were two fixed points in a Bond movie, Bond himself and the, quote, “girl formula.” That “formula” breaks Bond girls down into a few main types: the sacrificial lamb, the femme fatale, and the heroine.

Let’s start with the “sacrificial lamb,” perhaps the most frustrating type of Bond girl. These are women who fall for Bond, then die as a way of motivating him to complete his mission. This archetype is best exemplified by Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, theatrically murdered by Auric Goldfinger. Then there’s Plenty O’Toole, who literally gets thrown out a window, before she’s later drowned, in Diamonds Are Forever.

Roald Dahl: “Girl number one is pro-Bond. She stays around roughly through the first reel of the picture. Then she is bumped off by the enemy, preferably in Bond’s arms.

Next, there’s the “femme fatale,” an archetype easily recognizable from other spy stories. These women work with the movie’s villain, often as the mastermind’s primary minion. Worse still, they often commit the ultimate sin against Bond: they betray him, after sleeping with him And eventually, they fight him. The femme fatale is another obstacle for us to watch Bond overcome, whether through violence or through his own charisma.

Roald Dahl: “Girl number two is anti-Bond…. She must capture Bond, and Bond must save himself by bowling her over with sheer sexual magnetism.”

Finally, there’s the heroine. These are your classic Bond girls — women who ally with Bond, and help him over the course of the movie. Often, these women are like Bond: Talented operatives who can hold their own in a fight. These women are Bond’s equal, or at least something close to it. They don’t necessarily save Bond, but they do serve to help him in a crucial moment — and in some cases, they fight specifically against the femme fatale.

Roald Dahl: “Girl number three is violently pro-Bond. She occupies the final third of the picture, and she must on no account be killed. Nor must she permit Bond to take any lecherous liberties with her until the very end of the story.”

The heroine’s withholding of sex until the end of the movie turns her into a kind of prize, delivering what feels like a “happily ever after,” even though we know that “happiness” will only last until the next movie when this Bond girl will be replaced by an exciting new one.

So: Why do all of these women love James Bond? Sure, he’s hot — but we can find the deeper answer by going back again to Dahl’s articulation of the formula. All of the elements of a Bond movie exist in relation to Bond himself — the villains have to be scary enough that Bond looks cool defeating them, and the women beautiful enough that Bond looks cool seducing them. It’s a juvenile fantasy, albeit an appealing one. For James Bond, anything is a woman waiting to be seduced, even a car. Ultimately, these women are puzzle pieces in a decidedly teen boy fantasy. Bond gets to do whatever he wants, and acts like a child with everyone he meets. Q tells Bond to grow up, but the whole point of James Bond is that he never has to.

The Evolution Of The Bond Girl

Where does the Bond girl formula actually come from? Partly, it has its origins in Ian Fleming’s original Bond novels, and his own life.

BBC One: “Fleming dated Muriel Wright, whom he called Mew, or Honeytop, on account of her striking blonde hair. and became the ultimate blueprint for his Bond girls.”

Wright was the direct inspiration for the most iconic Bond girl of all: Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Honey Ryder’s entrance contains all of the DNA of the Bond girl — she’s there for Bond to appreciate, a prompt for lurid banter, and, above all, an attractive woman for the audience. And, of course, Honey is established as Bond’s reward at the end of the movie. This template held for almost all of the original Bond novels and films, like Goldfinger, Thunderball, and, of course, Dahl’s You Only Live Twice. These early films also establish Bond’s casual misogyny as a core part of his “charm” and contain scenes where Bond’s idealized masculinity apparently has no need for the Bond girl’s consent. No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga has pointed out that problematic scenes in Goldfinger, and Thunderball “wouldn’t fly today” — like when Pussy Galore turns Bond down repeatedly and attempts to fight him off before he pins her down in a “romantic” embrace. In the Goldinger novel, Pussy is also a lesbian, but she eventually says that’s because she “never met a man before” Bond.

Ian Fleming: “(She) only needed the right man to come along and perform the laying on of hands in order to cure her psycho-pathological malady.”

The biggest exception to the early Bond girl formula came in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — the only film to star George Lazenby — when Bond gets married and prepares to give up his life as a spy, only to lose his wife on their wedding day. Bond feels real loss in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But after that, the movies veer away from the possibility he might get attached to anyone. Instead, Bond sleeping with the women he meets becomes more a matter of course. As the franchise goes on, the films lean more into the inherent misogyny of James Bond as a character, to the point where he’s shocked a woman could be a doctor. Bond’s violent confroantations with femme fatale Bond girls continue for decades to be not only expected but highly sexualized. And by the Pierce Brosnan era, the women in Bond movies are largely vehicles for sex jokes, as in the case of Dr. Christmas Jones.

James Bond: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” - The World Is Not Enough

Still, the movies eventually tried to blend the various categories of Bond girl — consider May Day, the henchman played by Grace Jones in A View To A Kill. Though she is a villain, May Day eventually decides to help Bond, and is sacrificed because of it. Or Octopussy, a villain turned ally who’s so important to the 1983 movie that it’s named after her.

While it’s easy to write contemporary headlines about a new brand of strong, independent Bond Woman as a totally new thing, it’s also important to remember that, throughout the history of James Bond, Bond girls are often (at least superficially) sketched as empowered, capable of handling themselves. The promise of Bond is just that these protests of superiority are almost always false — women are drawn into Bond’s web, while he remains above it all.

To sidestep this pattern, the reboot movies instead increase their focus on a surprising Bond woman, one with genuinely more power than Bond himself: his boss, M. Judi Dench had already played Bond’s superior M in the Brosnan movies, but the relationship hadn’t fully been explored before Daniel Craig put on the tux. Bond and M share mutual affection, a rare emotion in the Bond films. Rather than focusing on an erotic relationship, M’s identity as a Bond woman relies on a different set of feminine tropes, which illuminate Bond’s essence as a grown-up, disobedient child. Eventually, like the sacrificial lamb from Dahl’s formula, M dies in Bond’s arms, reaffirming their relationship. And as we’ve seen, in this franchise, the best way for a Bond woman to be empowered is for her to die.

Of course, the other Not-A-Bond-Girl who’s one of the most major feminine presences in Bond’s life is Moneypenny, whose core identity established in the early films is that she’s openly pining for Bond but (tragically for her) can’t have him because she’s chosen to be a professional. Over the years Moneypenny has morphed to reflect changing norms about what’s appropriate flirting and touching in the workplace, while serving (like the Bond girls) to underline Bond’s irresistibility

Moneypenny: “Flattery will get you nowhere, but never stop trying.” - Dr. No

She reminds us that not all women get to be so lucky as to have him, while, on the other hand, only manages to stay around in the story because the attraction isn’t consummated. Today’s Eve Moneypenny subtly updates the dynamic to be more in line with today’s norms of workplace attraction and to give Moneypenny more of a life outside Bond; in the words of actor Naomie Harris, “I think she still has her soft spot for Bond… that’s never going to go. But she’s an independent woman with her own life.”

Chasing Vesper Lynd

When Pierce Brosnan stepped down from playing Bond after Die Another Day, Albert Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and Eon Productions went back to basics and picked up on an entertainment industry trend: They rebooted Bond. 2006’s Casino Royale finds Bond, now played by Craig, at the very beginning of his career, before he’s even 007. Casino Royale is an origin story, putting in place many of the pieces of the James Bond mythos, showing how Bond became a cold, womanizing murderer, — and the real heart of Casino Royale, and of all the Craig Bond movies, is Vesper Lynd. Introduced halfway through the movie as the suit in charge of Bond’s funding, Vesper gives as good as she gets, reading Bond’s entire personality within moments of meeting him.

Vesper Lynd: “By the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever, and actually think human beings dress like that.” - Casino Royale

Later on, Vesper saves Bond’s life — totally and unequivocally. He needs her in a way Bond rarely needs any of the women who help him. Eventually, Vesper’s ability to see and understand Bond causes him to completely fall in love with her. Casino Royale teases the lie at the end of every Bond movie — that Bond and his lover will have a happily-ever-after ending. Except this time, he does it — for the second time in Bond movie history, he quits his job for love (the first time being for his marriage to Tracy.) Then, it all comes crashing down — literally — when Bond discovers that Vesper is working with the terrorists, and she dies. Seemingly moments after, Bond has completed his metamorphosis and donned his armor again, this time for good. However, Vesper’s death motivates Bond to find her terrorist handler, Mr. White. It’s the first time the classic Bond theme music appears in the film, and the first time Bond has appeared as the character we came to know over the course of decades — and it all happens because of this fundamental loss.

The primary post-Vesper Bond girl is Camille Montes, an ex-agent of the Bolivian Secret Service. Like Bond, Camille Montes has spent her life in a cold, murderous institution and now seeks revenge. Like Bond, she has a complicated relationship with the person motivating her — in this case, her deceased father, rather than Vesper. Ultimately, Camille can’t be her own character, because she exists to reflect Bond’s complex feelings about Vesper back at him. Later on, M confronts Bond with his tendency to manipulate women, which has become even colder since Vesper.

M: “Look how well your charm works. James. They’ll do anything for you, won’t they?” - Quantum of Solace

And when Bond meets other women, like the widow Lucia Sciarra in Spectre, he is unable to connect with them at all. And throughout the Craig movies, Vesper is given a history, a sense of why she did what she did and the ways her choices still affect Bond — to the point where Spectre makes her death part of Ernst Blofeld’s master plan to destroy Bond. So: why is Vesper so important? Her centrality to Blofeld’s plan makes it clear that she isn’t just any Bond girl — she’s all three archetypes in one: a heroine who matches Bond, betrays him, and eventually dies to motivate him to embark on his entire career . And this origin story sets her up as the reason why Bond is only able to relate to women in a few different ways.

Conclusion

The Craig movies do what they can to update the formula for our times: objectifying Bond as much as he objectifies women, and giving us female characters whose narrative importance isn’t solely tied to an erotic relationship with Bond. No Time To Die — the first Bond film in the post-Me Too and Time’s up era — features Lea Seydoux, Ana De Armas and Lashana Lynch in roles that consciously (at least attempt to) depart from the Bond girl’s past. Lynch’s Nomi has inherited the 007 title from Bond himself, making her (quite literally) the “equal” that the Bond “heroine” type is supposed to be, while consciously not sexualizing her. Perhaps most significantly of all, the movie also includes among its writers Phoebe Waller-Bridge, only the second female writer to be credited in the entire franchise’s history and indicating a growing intention to incorporate an actual female perspective into this character. But there’s still no getting around the basics of the formula, and of Fleming’s well-documented chauvinism.

The question remains: is it possible to truly move beyond the Bond girl’s old-school rules without totally losing the essence of her or of the Bond story structure itself? So long as we keep getting Bond movies, the important question isn’t whether Bond girls are “empowered,” it’s whether they’re given the same level of depth as Bond himself, rather than simply giving him someone to bounce off of. The challenge is whether the Bond girl of tomorrow has staying power, the ability to interest us in more than just her relationship to Bond, and the chance to develop her own story.