From now on, in James Bond’s household, it’s the Calpol that will be shaken but not stirred. Reports earlier this week suggested that in the forthcoming Bond movie No Time to Die, the 25th entry in the franchise, Daniel Craig’s secret agent will be retired from MI6 and have a five-year-old daughter.
No doubt Q has been busy babyproofing the Aston Martin. But it seems a safe bet that the film will see Papa Bond rapidly swap domestic bliss for deadly peril.
Aficionados have already been complaining that giving Bond a kid and a long-term partner – he appears to be shacked up with the lovely Dr Madeleine Swann (his conquest from the last film, Spectre) – will mean that Bond will start boringly fretting about whether it’s right to put himself in danger – and, even worse, won’t be seducing any girls now somebody’s finally put a ring on it.
A certain type of Bond fanboy has already been laying the blame for turning Bond from lone wolf to family man at the door of screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of Fleabag fame. Some are even bleating that this attempt to give Bond a gooey, touchy-feely side is not just political correctness gone mad but the first step in a campaign to feminise him, with the ultimate aim of having the character eventually changed into a woman.
Barbara Broccoli, the producer of the films, has insisted that Bond will remain male, but even so there has been speculation that Bond has been given a daughter so that she can one day inherit the franchise. Is Jane Bond the future? This may be the perfect compromise for our equal-opportunities age: Bond Junior will no doubt be a chip off the old block, but she won’t actually be Bond, so the purists may be mollified.
One thing is certain: the universe of the Bond films is evolving. Before the advent of Craig, it would have been difficult to imagine Bond retiring and starting a family. Bond’s loyalty to – in no particular order – his country, his service, M, and his sense of justice would not have allowed it.
He might resign every now and then to pursue a villain without HMG’s sanction; but despite the murder of his wife, his own innumerable experiences of torture, and (as it seemed in the later Roger Moore movies) incipient arthritis, he would no more have thought of jacking it in and putting his feet up than the Queen.
In the Daniel Craig era, however, we have a Bond who doesn’t bounce back from every disaster, one with an emotional hinterland who might indeed decide that there is more to life than the Service.
The response of many fans has been to yell, in their best Alan Partridge voices, “Stop getting Bond wrong!” But I would argue that, if you return to Ian Fleming’s original novels, you will see that the Craig films are getting Bond right – or at least getting closer to the character than the smirking automaton of the earlier films, with his three settings of “kill”, “seduce” and “quip”.
One should note, first of all, that making Bond a father is simply following the Fleming canon. At the end of Fleming’s late novel You Only Live Twice – published a few months before the author’s death in 1964 – Bond, who has lost his memory after a head injury sustained in blowing up Blofeld’s castle, is living in Japan with his girlfriend Kissy Suzuki, who becomes pregnant.
She doesn’t tell him, however, nobly deciding that it is better for him to head to Europe in search of his true identity rather than settle down as a family man. (None of this made it into the Sean Connery film.)
This is one of a group of Fleming’s late novels in which the author seemed to tire of his usual formula of Bond meeting and having a relationship with a new girl, having apparently completely forgotten about the one who captured his heart in the previous book. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond falls deeply in love with Tracy di Vicenzo and marries her, only for Blofeld to murder her as they set off on honeymoon. This was followed by You Only Live Twice, which begins with the heartbroken Bond, gambling and drinking heavily, on the brink of being sacked.
In the next book, the posthumously published The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond has his memory back but not his mojo: there is, for the first time, no romance; no “Bond girl”. The old commitment-phobe seems to have evolved from somebody happy to bed any toothsome girl in the vicinity into somebody seeking love and capable of being hurt by it. One wonders, if Fleming had lived, whether he might have introduced Bond to his child and taken the series in the direction the films are now heading in.
In any case, the Bond of the books was a more complicated character than the screen version from the very beginning. In Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale (1953), Bond tells his French ally Mathis that he wants to resign, worried that he can no longer justify killing people: “this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date... History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”
In Fleming’s works, Bond frequently questions the morality of what he does. He is simply nowhere near as trigger-happy as the Bond of the films, happily dispatching henchmen by the dozen. Kingsley Amis did the maths in his James Bond Dossier: Fleming’s Bond killed 39 men over the course of 13 books – “not a large figure”.
Of course, Craig’s Bond suits our more emotionally intelligent – or, if you prefer, unbearably snowflakey – times. But it so happens that our current Bond – a Bond who develops and matures, who is vulnerable, who questions himself and sees that there is more to life than a licence to kill – bears more resemblance to Fleming’s character than the armour-plated Connery or the Teflon-coated Moore ever did.
“Englishmen are so odd. They are like a nest of Chinese boxes. It takes a very long time to get to the centre of them,” Mathis tells Bond in the first book. At last, with Craig, we have a screen Bond of whom that is true.
No Time to Die is scheduled for release in November (TBC).
The Daily Telegraph