Jeremy Black, 'The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming's Novels to the Big Screen'

IssueJune - August 2001
Review by Simon Dixon

Love them or loathe them, the James Bond films and novels comprise one of the most significant British cultural phenomena of the last fifty years.

For Black, among the central themes are the impact of the Second World War upon western culture, the declining importance of Britain on the world stage and changing relations between the west and Russia. He also gives a great deal of consideration to changing attitudes towards gender, race and ethnicity throughout the period.

In a perceptive chapter dealing with gender and sexual politics he describes Bond as a romanticised and idealised depiction of masculinity which is both deeply conservative and intrinsically homophobic. This is illustrated by the fact that it is only the bad guys who are depicted as gay.

However, the more recent films, whilst retaining some of the prejudices inherent in Ian Fleming's original novels, have reflected changing public attitudes towards gender, sexuality and race. This is most notably evident in Michelle Yeoh's portrayal of the Chinese spy Wai Lin, a leading protagonist in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies.

Thus the overt racism and misogyny of the earlier 007 stories is less evident in the later portrayals of Bond on screen. However, the failure of Timothy Dalton to capture the public imagination in his attempt to make the character appear less macho illustrates the resonance of stereotypical perceptions of maleness and the centrality of the heroic male in much modern popular fiction.

Topics: Culture
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