Spectre Review – Lie Back and Think of England

James Bond's Spectre illustrationJames Bond will return in…

In Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, writer Benjamin Pratt excitedly quotes the following passage from the ‘Letter of James’ –
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad

He makes the connection as part of his claim that Fleming intended the philandering, boozing espionage agent James Bond to be a religious allegory for service to God.

For the majority of Bond’ s onscreen existence that was an easy claim to make. Bond was the archetypal ‘Cold Warrior’, a symbol for the West’s resistance against the technocratic Soviet Evil Empire. Where the cinematic Russian agents and cynical Cold War profiteers are godless, Bond therefore, by the rule of opposites, must be god-fearing.

Except Bond has shown no devotion to any higher beliefs or ideals. He reports to his direct employer M, and serves at Her Majesty’s pleasure. In recognition of Bond’s royal allegiance, Daniel Craig and The Queen staged a spoof short for the London 2012 Olympics, concluding with a parachute jump!

Bond is a ‘bond-servant’ who uses any method to advance his country’s objectives, be it in the bedroom or fighting enemy agents on a train.

Spectre is the 24th film in the series. For the opening, Sam Mendes offers up a masked Craig seducing a Day of the Dead reveller in Mexico City without saying a word, massive property destruction, and a hair-raising helicopter ride. Then the title sequence begins.

Why Bond was in Mexico City at all is a mystery to his employer M (Ralph Fiennes), who orders geek-chic quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw) to inject 007 with ‘smartblood’, so they can track his movements in future.

M is feeling the pinch, because another upstart intelligence director C (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) is circling his department, aiming to replace the 00 project entirely with surveillance spyware technology. No more agents in the field. Instead representatives from nine nations will share surveillance on their citizens (only South Africa is mentioned in passing as a holdout to this trumping of personal privacy).

Bond investigates what lies behind this takeover of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, happily discovering that it is connected to the real reasons for his actions in Mexico City – even when 007 goes rogue, he is still acting in service to his country. Along the way he encounters the daughter of an old enemy – Léa Seydoux’s ‘Bond Girl’ thankfully has a less punable name in Madeleine Swann – and discovers even more buried family secrets after the revelations of Skyfall.

Unlike previous efforts in the series, Bond’s Great Game has an impact closer to home. Spectre opens with the spectacle of a Mexican Day of the Dead and has the requisite secret lair in the middle of an African desert – but then closes on the banks of the Thames. The Daniel Craig films have been increasingly intimate, focused on Bond the person. In Spectre he is explicitly an avatar for Britain, isolated by the bureaucracy of ‘the West’. In Goldeneye, Bond is described by M as “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War”; now he represents a nation’s sense of authority under threat from intelligence-sharing initiatives and technology.

It is strange to see a Bond film flirt with technophobia given its emphasis on gadgets. Yet in Spectre, Whishaw’s Q is distinctly hacker-like, a contrast to the upper class Establishment quartermaster played by Desmond Llewelyn. Andrew Scott’s C is automatically assumed to be villainous simply for arguing in favour of enhanced global surveillance.

Recently the UK Home Office has presented a draft Investigatory Powers Bill that would make C smack his lips. Tory MP Derek Davis has suggested the public’s apathy around surveillance is due to too much affection for the idea of James Bond

We’re the country that invented James Bond and we like our spies. We have a wonderful illusion about our security services, a very comforting illusion. But it means we’re too comfortable.

In the end it is that sense of privilege, of British superiority and London as the centre of global power, that Bond defends in Spectre. It is a work of nostalgia for the idea of Empire, under threat from a world moving too fast technologically for Bond’s Aston Martin to keep up with.

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