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Voices: Sorry, ladies, but I’m relieved the new James Bond is a man

Double-oh heaven: Roger Moore – and Bond girls – in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (Shutterstock)
Double-oh heaven: Roger Moore – and Bond girls – in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (Shutterstock)

Since the fictional character first appeared in 1953, James Bond has rarely been mistaken for a weapon in the fight for female equality.

From the swirling silhouettes of naked ladies in the films’ opening sequences to the parade of scantily clad beauties who fawn over him, the arrogant British Secret Service agent has mostly pursued a singular, hedonistic path – and one that has either demeaned women, or left them for dead. People, the women he beds are called Bond girls…

News that Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the 33-year-old Kick-Ass actor, will this week sign a contract to replace Daniel Craig as the world’s most stylish, high-living secret service agent has left some feminist fans of the films feeling a little deflated.

After Lashana Lynch briefly took on the 007 mantle in 2021’s No Time To Die– the one where Bond is blown to bits at the end – it had been hoped this might require a reboot of the entire franchise, perhaps one that presages a full-time female lead. Actors from Emilia Clarke, Priyanka Chopra and Gillian Anderson have all openly said they would jump at the chance to portray Bond. And even Idris Elba, the bookies’ long-term favourite to replace Craig, had previously stated in a Vanity Fair interview that it was time the role went to a woman.

So, one has to wonder, have the producers missed a great opportunity in not selecting a female Bond?

As a young female Bond fan, I thought it was an exciting and radical step when Judi Dench was cast as M, the head of the British secret service, in 1995’s GoldenEye. Back then, there was no online media frenzy around the appointment; it was just an acceptance of a shift away from the traditional character. I loved seeing her quietly step into this male-dominated world and calling the shots: she was powerful, whip-smart and brilliant.

But there was always enough ambiguity in Ian Fleming’s character that meant M could be played by any gender. The truth is that James Bond is a male character, and can only be played by a man. It doesn’t matter what colour he is – he’s British by nationality – but, quite simply, he needs to be a chap.

It feels at odds for me to write that. I’m a feminist, and still believe the film industry remains in the grip of privileged straight white men. However, casting a woman would be a simplistic avoidance of the real necessity, which is to continue to create better characters for women to play.

Barbara Broccoli, the co-owner of the Bond franchise alongside her half-brother, admitted as much in an interview with Variety: “He can be of any colour, but he is male… I’m not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that.”

And I absolutely agree with her.

Why do we have to be given the roles that men play? Aren’t we suitably complex, interesting and unique that we deserve our own characters? Why would a woman want to play the equivalent of a troubled, misogynistic and – dare I say it – fairly one-dimensional action character? Haven’t we learnt that women don’t need to imitate and be like men to succeed?

There is enough scope and opportunity to create some truly outstanding roles for women in the next installment. When Broccoli enlisted the staggering talents of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge to rescue the script for No Time To Die, I knew that better times were ahead for the franchise. In that film, I adored young spy Paloma, brilliantly played by Ana de Armas: she ignored 007’s flirtatious advances and made absolutely no attempt to seduce him, which marked a welcome change for Bond’s relationship with women.

James Bond is about being daring. Perhaps, then, the next instalment in the franchise – the 26th film – is a great opportunity for producers to echo that by creating an outstanding ensemble cast around the eighth actor to take on the role. My younger teenage self would have loved to have seen a Bond film brimming with more than one brilliant female character, all of whom are greater than Bond himself.

And that will be a far greater challenge for the producers than simply creating Jamie Bond.