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Nobody wants a watered-down James Bond

Roger Moore's Bond, irreverent and womanising, may not chime with modern sensibilities. Credit: Getty

January 5, 2024 - 10:00am

James Bond has been around for a very long time. When Ian Fleming’s first 007 yarn Casino Royale was published in April 1953, sugar, meat and coal were rationed in the United Kingdom. Lady Chatterley’s Lover would remain banned for the rest of the decade. There were people alive who could remember late-Victorian London, who had read newspaper headlines about the death of Gordon at Khartoum and Jack the Ripper. It would be another 10 years before the country had a prime minister born in the 20th century. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the early Bond films — 60 years old now — have acquired some problematic baggage for contemporary audiences. Yesterday it was reported that the British Film Institute’s new season, which includes some of the Sean Connery classics, will warn audiences that “these films contain language, images and other content that reflect views prevalent in their time, but will cause offence today (as they did then).”

The priggish tone is undoubtedly annoying, but — beyond the standard-issue harrumphing at the latest excesses of political correctness — it does raise an interesting question about the future of Bond on screen. The most recent 007 outing, No Time To Die, concluded — and readers wishing to avoid spoilers are advised to skip to the next paragraph — with our hero being incinerated by a missile barrage, and that film, though not released until 2021 due to Covid-19, was completed four years ago. With no firm plans for another instalment in the series, and no confirmed replacement for the retiring Daniel Craig, we are staring down the barrel of an extended series hiatus of the kind not seen since the early 1990s. 

Some critics and analysts have suggested that Bond has had his day and ought to stay buried under the rubble of Safin’s island lair. Is he really “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “relic of the Cold War”, as suggested by Judi Dench’s M in GoldenEye? Well, up to a point. 

The producers have shown remarkable capacity for reinventing the character and his milieu, quietly realigning him with changing sensibilities. Craig’s Bond has never smoked, for example, and has only slept with six women in his five films, a clearly deliberate decision tied up with growing official ambivalence about the sexual revolution (of which classic-era Bond was both herald and product). Notoriously, his tenure has also seen the development of a more sensitive, vulnerable Bond, and the disappearance of the humour and campy excess that once characterised the franchise.

The question remains to what extent one can change the Bond formula before it stops being Bond in any meaningful sense. By this point, the cinematic character is only a very distant cousin of Fleming’s original — moody and troubled, he now closely resembles any number of modern male protagonists. The Bond of the books would appear by turns contemptible and laughable to much of the modern audience, given his attitudes to women, gay people and foreigners, and his incomprehensible snobberies. Fleming himself, who died in 1964, would doubtless find it rather odd that his hero is still an important cultural figure today.

But there is, plausibly, a central core which persists. Bond is the lonely British hero reliant on his wits and his gadgets; an irreverent man’s man, fond of travel and the good life, worn down by a fast-changing world and his country’s uncertain place in it. Through all this, he remains deeply committed to the preservation of a civilised, free world, with Britain and her institutions as its spiritual centre.


Niall Gooch is a public sector worker and occasional writer who lives in Kent.

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Robbie K
Robbie K
6 months ago

There should have been a trigger on ‘No Time to Die’ – warning, this film will destroy Bond’s character forever.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I do not know.
There is still room trans Bond “No Time to Dye my Hair and do my Nails”

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 months ago

Please, don’t give them any encouragement.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
6 months ago

Moore was the best Bond by a mile. A Moore-like Bond should be cast next, and if some of the womanising etc. is done in an ironic tone, that would be OK with me.

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 months ago
Reply to  Dick Barrett

Connery is and will always be the best Bond.

Kathleen Burnett
Kathleen Burnett
6 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

When Connery threw a punch, it looked as if he meant it. Unlike Moore, who missed the intended jaw by about six inches.

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
6 months ago
Reply to  Dick Barrett

“Shocking,” as Sean Connery might say, unless of course you prefer badly tailored 1970s crimplene safari suits over slick Saville Row tailoring. When Cubby Broccoli saw Sean Connery walk away from his audition with the grace and poise of a big cat he reckoned he had a hit on his hands. When he saw Moore do his first action scene Broccoli threw his head in his hands and said “oh no, he runs like he’s got a broom stick up his a**se.” That was why Moore played it for laughs. Will give you the Moore movies still had some wit. Brosnan had the looks but what’s really missing in the later movies is humour, wit and pithy dialogue. There’s just no writing, and the later movies are an assault of CGI action. The props and stunts in the early films such as the Disco Volante boat separating in Thunderball were simply staggering for their age.

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
6 months ago

These are the same class of dinglebobs who put trigger warnings on “The Muppet Show.” I hope the audiences laugh happily.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
6 months ago

The franchise will roll on. Remember there is a daughter waiting to take over the role and more acceptably treat her male co-stars with casual misandry having taken over the 007 position. Of course it might have been better for the zeitgeist had she been black but I am sure some suitable racially acceptable daughter might be discovered. The white one still has a bit of growing up to do.

John Riordan
John Riordan
6 months ago

Nobody wants a watered-down James Bond

Not exactly true. It’s certainly true that nobody who enjoys Bond movies has the remotest interest in watching a 21st century bowdlerisation of the Bond character – of course not.

But there are quite a few people who don’t enjoy Bond movies (or anything else for that matter, really, but that’ll be another story) who very much want to see yet another cultural icon fall as a consequence of this fatuous puritanism that infests modern public life these days. It’s a form of cultural vandalism given a facade of respectability which fools no-one but is just enough to add to the weight that is given to a certain class of opinion while demoting opinions that differ.

Nobody is stupid enough to actually believe that there’s a genuine moral issue here that needs addressing. This is about normalising Progressive censorship of non-Progressive views, values and narratives, that’s all.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 months ago

The question remains to what extent one can change the Bond formula before it stops being Bond in any meaningful sense. 
Does it though? The character is who he is. Perhaps the series cannot continue forever any more than Star Wars can, but this bout of pearl-clutching is one of those luxury beliefs that are worth criticizing.
The trigger warning, ironically enough, paraphrases what the psychological community calls presentist thinking, an ill that abundantly obvious in how historical figures and events are filtered through a modern-day lens. In simplest terms, you can’t do that.
You can’t apply 2024 sensibilities to events and people in 1924 or centuries before that. What you CAN do is note that certain things have changed since then, but that would undercut the church of the perpetually aggrieved and offended.

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago

The feminisation of every major male character in the western canon continues apace. From Luke Skywalker being reduced to a bitter waste of space, to Bond being outsmarted by his women peers at every turn, there is nothing modern screenwriters seem to know how to do other than deconstruct the idols of the past. They build nothing. Instead of the brooding byronic man struggling against the odds, all white male heroes are reduced by these destructive writers (who are mostly minority, female and/or a weak men) to a punchline.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
6 months ago

All they need to do is ‘put a chick in it and make her gay’. It’s working for Disney? Or not.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
6 months ago

Honour Blackman was thirty eight years old when Goldfinger was filmed and a WW2 Dispatch Rider: she never complained about her treatment.

Will K
Will K
6 months ago

Long ago, Bond was asked by a female companion for the cause of a sound in his car (from the built-in high-tech radar tracker). “Magneto whine”, was his explanation, which was immediately accepted.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
6 months ago

Ah, James Bond, always a subject to get the ancients at Unherd all riled up in their ignorant righteousness!!!
The trigger warnings are sensible and appropriate. The Bond movies of the the 60’s are anachronistic at best and downright racist and misogynistic at worst (which all comes straight from the books). The snowflakes are those who are mortally offended by having to hear a warning of a few seconds before watching an unedited version of the movie. You need to toughen up a little, gramps!
The Daniel Craig era was a mixed bag but certainly produced two all time classics in Casino Royale and Skyfall, both far superior to the amusing schlock that was most of the Roger Moore movies and the later Connery films. No Time to Die wasn’t great but that is not the fault of female characters who can do more than murmur “ooh James” at the right moment.
The character has not been feminized, whatever that is supposed to mean, but modernized and the box office results speak for themselves. The younger generation have no interest in a wisecracking, indestructible ladies man in a tuxedo.
I look forward to seeing what they do next with him. Sorry to disappoint you but Bond will not be female, trans or gay, much as it would amuse me. He might be black or asian and that would be fine, despite the outraged howls from our racist friends here. However, chances are extremely high that he will be a white British guy in his 30’s who looks great in a suit, and that is just fine.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 months ago

Bro, do u even lift?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Perfect! A guy called Julian wants to compare how much we can bench!
God, you guys are amazing! Never change!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
6 months ago

Fleming based Bond on many characters from his war experience. The Scottish landed gentry produced many tough Special Forces officers such as Stirling,Lovat, etc and on their estates he Commandos/SOE were trained. What Bond had was that particularly icy emotionally detached indifference which enabled him to operate on his own, undercover,behind enemy lines. Learning to stalk deer and being sent away to boarding schools develops that icy detached indifferent quality. It is the ability to be alone which is vital.

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
6 months ago

First, there would be no Bond franchise today if it were not for Sean Connery, whose casting Fleming initially derided, then applauded when he saw his manicured Saville Row masculinity on screen. Second, an important subtext of Fleming’s Bond books is a post-war Britain adapting to its diminished status on the world stage: Bond drives a Bentley, and whenever he wants some serious back-up he goes cap in hand to the Yanks. Third, Daniel Craig has all the grace of a gym-bunny night-club bouncer. Bond is over, but you can still watch the one and only Sean Connery, and the books are a lot better than they’re given credit for.