The Night Manager: A Slower James Bond

The Night Manager, it’s the new John Le Carré adaptation on BBC1, a typical story of intrigue, spying and nefarious businessmen screwing the rest of the world over. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film then it’s like that (sorry, spoiler alert) – big baddy selling weapons, objectified women who get killed by baddies and some dull, semi-sociopath spy caught in the middle of it. Except this time M is played by Olivia Coleman and she’s got a northern accent and a baby on the way. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever read one of my blog posts you’ll be able to predict my complaints: it fails the Latif and Bechdel tests so far (I’m on episode 3 and still asking myself why I didn’t stop at 1), there’s plenty of sexualised, female nudity and zilch sexualised male nudity (not even some side penis to compensate for all the side boob we get) and the protagonist has no charisma, genuinely zero, he doesn’t even register on the personality scale. To summarise, this is a boring yet glamorous waste of time. If you really want your fill of slightly-more-intelligent-than-James-Bond spy thriller (but still disappointingly chauvinistic) watch The Constant Gardener.

So, need this blog go on? Well, one thing I do find quite interesting about this series is it’s depiction of rich people. And we’re not just talking millionaires we’re talking the billionaire businessmen who sell arms and pull strings in national governments to get away with it. Yup, it’s the elite of the elite, those at the top of the capitalist military industrial complex. And the one in The Night Manager is called Richard Roper and is played by Hugh Laurie. And, curiously, he’s not very scary. He tells crass jokes, he flops around his villa eating brioche, he quaffs champagne, he does the odd deal, he dances with his much younger girlfriend (who is often to be seen naked unlike Hugh Laurie of course). Meanwhile, his rich friends have drinking problems, are insecure about how they look, cheat on their wives with their French au pairs, have complexes about their masculinity (and penis size no doubt), and genuinely do what insecure, entitled men do. Meanwhile, the wives look on as they try to ignore their husbands dodgy dealings whilst packing off bratty Tamara and Tim to boarding school.

And these so-called elites, the 1%, are the ones we’re encouraged to aspire to be like!? The only difference between these people and any other group of malfunctioning humans (which is most groups) is that when they negotiate over a contract that contract tends to be about weapons that may well be used in a war. When I fall out with my friends it’s usually over a round and the repercussions might be a split pint or two. For the 1% it’s whether British arms will be used to trash the next Middle Eastern country. So The Night Manger, whilst being a well-worn cliché of exotic locales and exoticised women has done me the favour of putting me off my dream to become a billionaire. The rich come across as pretty boring and Hugh Laurie’s attempt at justifying his lifestyle is also quite boring. After having said how great it is to be able to eat brioche whenever he likes and go skiing a lot he then says: “Children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered, rational, fit for purpose. It’s crap. Becoming a man is realising that it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness, that’s freedom.” I mean, seriously, what a half-hearted attempt at justifying egoistic nihilism. The whole point of nihilism is that you don’t need to justify it, it’s just an excuse to be a complete wanker and not care about anyone else. Sure, Roper fits the bill but is a villa in Mallorca really the best he can do? Personally, I’d prefer some nice friends and not facilitating World War 3.

The Anatomy Of James Bond (Or Why Bond Votes Conservative)

James Bond, you might have heard of him. They say men want to be him and women want to be with him – apparently. But what’s he really like? Underneath the ski gear, tuxedo and bullet proof vest who is he really? Time for some pop psychology that will lead me to conclude that he probably votes Tory.

First things first, James Bond is an affluent, English, white, straight male. According to the books he spent much of his early life jet setting around Europe with his parents as his father worked for an armaments company (I guess guns run in the family). He briefly went to Eton before being expelled for a dalliance with a maid and then went to Fettes College, a private school in Scotland. He also went to University in Geneva. So Bond’s background was one of privilege and wealth (ring any bells?). These things often make people feel quite entitled, as if they deserve them rather than just having acquired them through the accident of birth. However, a boarding school upbringing comes with other things. Namely, the repression of emotion.

At school Bond will have been bullied for crying and general displays of emotion (save anger and the joy of victory). He’ll have been told that emotions are what women do and the worst thing a man can do is appear like a woman. So classes in misogyny will have been taught alongside classes in the stiff upper lip, nationalism and tying cravats, usually by sexist, posh and snobbish teachers (or men trying desperately to appear posh by association). Thus, a general environment of racism, classism and discrimination will have percolated into Bond’s psychology. Naturally, he’ll grow up to become cold-hearted and sexist, and we see this in his general treatment of women throughout the films/books. They often wind up dead and when they do Bond hardly seems to care. “The b*tch is dead,” says Daniel Craig’s Bond when he discovers that his lover Vesper Lynd has died. Whilst we know he did love her he lives in such a world where confessing that would be tantamount to joining the communists. Add to this ingrained misogyny a big dose of self-loathing.

His posh lifestyle will have forced him to define himself apart from others – he’s not poor, not common, not badly educated, not homosexual etc – so he’ll have had little chance to explore what he actually is or could be because he’s been forced into a specific, chauvinist mould. Fortunately though he’s landed in the one job that lets him live out this warped masculine stereotype because he gets to kill and fight a lot whilst womanising without consequences. And it’s precisely this job that belies his political orientation – I mean he loves a command/control approach to work as he’s very good at taking orders (whilst treating his boss like some sort of warped father/mother figure who affirms his acts of mass violence), he upholds the values of the British establishment even when its complicit in the global corruption it’s alleging to tackle and he kills a lot of people from other countries – I mean, he must be a Tory.

So, underneath it all, who really is James Bond? Well, a mass of insecurities and brutal conditionings. He’s inherited a woeful bunch of concepts with which to make an identity from and the consequences prove alcoholic, violent and unfriendly. For someone to be so out of touch with their emotions, so lacking in sympathy and so callous, well, they can’t really have ever got much love. However, there is more to him than a mish mash of masculine clichés and stereotypes. Occasionally he’ll come out with something quite brilliant like when Daniel Craig put us straight: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.” Yup, even Bond is aware of his own conditioning and therein lies hope, hope that he could change to become someone who treats others well, who can challenge his repressive upbringing and tackle the root causes of global problems (such as the British government’s proliferation of the arms trade and dubious foreign policy). Maybe one day Bond might just vote for Labour, or at least the Liberal Democrats.

Yup, Monica Belluci is spot on, Bond is “obviously crazy”.

Suffragettes, Lipstick & High Speed Internet

Seat found, popcorn in hand, fizzy drink in the other. I was ready to enjoy Suffragette, the new movie about the women’s rights movement in the early 20th century, when Emmeline Pankhurst was rallying thousands to the cause, when Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse, and when bricks were being thrown through windows and wires were being cut because women did not have the vote. I couldn’t wait. I love feminism, I think it’s awesome, and a whole movie about it is a right treat. But before the film, the adverts…

First there was the make-up one. John Legend takes a seat at a piano and starts singing La Vie En Rose. Then in comes Julianne Moore followed closely by Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Leila Bekhti, Eva Longoria and a whole host of famous women. They gather around the piano in their pink dresses and friendly smiles. The camera lingers briefly on their lips, hair, chins and breasts. Legend carries on singing and sometimes the women offer a word or two, you get the impression they don’t really know the lyrics. And it’s all for Color Riche Collection Exclusive, a new line of pink lipsticks from L’Oreal. The advert ends with Moore telling us “we’re worth it” and the impression I was left with is that everyone involved with the advert (hopefully) got paid a lot of money. Ok, famous women using their celebrity status to help promote a product and a brand, it’s hardly new. I mean, it’s not quite on a par with what the Suffragettes did but it’s great that these brilliant women have made it…made it onto the set of a L’Oreal advert. It’s fine, I won’t think too much about it, can’t wait for the movie.

Then it’s Heineken and Daniel Craig. James Bond nicks a speed boat to escape some bad guys except a female water skier is attached to it. Dragged along by the boat she deftly navigates waves, rocks, a wedding, a bar (she even has time to grab a tray of beers) and one of the enemy speedboats. Jumping aboard the boat she throws a top hat at the baddy currently attacking Bond. It doesn’t do much. Bond then prompts her to tie the bad guy up to a parachute who then gets dragged away. Bond then asks her if she’d like to join him for a boozy lunch. Ok, quite funny, yes the woman is unnamed and wearing a swimming costume the whole time whereas we all know Bond’s name and the men are all wearing suits but it’s a beer advert, what can you except? Maybe a little more, maybe? Anyway, nearly time for the film!

And just before it begins a truly inspiring advert, finally! A mum and her young daughter are watching clips of great women doing great things, people like Emmeline Pankhurst, Paloma Faith, Billie Holiday, Steph Houghton, and they’re all winking at the young girl inspiring her to join the movement and become awesome. And what an inspiring way to advertise…Vivid, the new high-speed internet connection service from Virgin. Right, because that’s how we celebrate feminism throughout the years by truncating the narrative and shoehorning it into an ad for broadband. And lipstick. And beer (although I doubt Heineken has even thought about co-opting feminism into their beer-selling cause).

So there was I, excited for the movie, but a little perplexed. As I watched these adverts I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the receiving end of an agenda – an agenda that appropriates amazing moments in our history/present to inspire us, not to try and replicate these events or even celebrate them, but to buy stuff. Consumer capitalism is really rather brilliant at reducing everything to an act of consumption. It also objectifies the female body and uses it as a vehicle for selling make-up and alcohol. None of this is new but it is exceedingly boring especially when it’s juxtaposed with the ensuing film, namely one about women who risked their lives and died so women could have greater equality. And the advertising agenda wasn’t even subtle. I mean lip stick and a feminist themed broadband. It’s clear these brands did some lazy ‘market research’ before crassly targeting their presumed captive audience with the ‘appropriate’ products. But the minutes before a film like Suffragette make for prime time virtual estate. So as I finished my popcorn long before the film started I couldn’t help but feel that despite all the amazing gains that have been made there is still a very long way to go. Time to smash some beer bottles, stamp on some lipsticks and cut some fibre optics.

Script Leak: The New James Bond

Apparently the script for the new James Bond, Spectre, has been leaked and I can now reveal what happens…more or less. Contains spoilers (of a kind).

James Bond has gone to Mexico to take a much deserved break from heartlessly killing people. He gets a bit bored though so does stop to heartlessly kill a few people. Meanwhile, back at M16 HQ things aren’t looking good – not only did the office recently undergo some disastrous refurbishing but the new boss, M2 (the new M that is, rather than the motorway – played by Voldemort), is assassinated (the all-too familiar scene in which M2 remonstrates with Bond is actually a dream, it’s a comic, post-modern nod to the fact that this scene happens so much in Bond it’s become a cliché, but not this time).

Uh-oh. With James Bond away and Q tangled up in his latest cardigan there’s only one man who can step up to the challenge of sorting things out, one woman actually, Eve Moneypenny. She gave up her licence to kill after the dictates of plot forced her to be a terrible field agent but she’s still got an intellect to die for. She might have broken heels but, boy, can she do it better than the rest of ’em.

Bond’s holiday continues apace and he stops by a funeral in some generically beautiful city to hit on a widow (Monica Belluci). Comic capers ensue as he tries to reinvigorate his licence to thrill. Belluci is unimpressed and opts to be shot by a firing squad rather than persist living in a grimly misogynistic and violent world. Whilst looking into the death of M2 Moneypenny is threatened by Max Denbigh, a member of the British government. “Ugh,” she thinks, “Another thinly characterised posh white guy telling me what to do – gotta love the patriarchy.” She’s then told to shut up and get back to her desk.

Bond drops by an old friend, Mr White (named to help distinguish him from the other white, male characters in the film), who gave up his job as arch-criminal to become a poet. His latest ones include “Kites In A Hurricane” and “The Many Faces of Death”, Bond thinks they’re quite beautiful but then again his favourite poem is Humpty Dumpty. Mr White has also turned to God. “Tell me where he is?” asks Bond. “He’s everywhere,” shouts Mr White in a fit of ardent faith. Mr W then accidentally drops a photo of his family and Bond notes that his daughter is pretty hot. Using M16 satellite technology he tracks down the daughter, blows up her suitors and asks her out on a date. She’s not that impressed but is more of a trope than a character so says yes. They go on a high speed train date (as part of a new ITV2 extreme dating series) to get to know each other but the deal breaker for her is discovering that Bond’s into fox-hunting.

Moneypenny discovers links between Denbigh and SPECTRE, a top-secret organisation that is involved in the financing of crime all over the world (also known as the City of London). She calls up Bond, who wants to have sex with her in the bath (she politely but firmly declines, again), and asks him to infiltrate SPECTRE’s top-secret London HQ – she’d do it herself because she’s a mistress of disguise but realises she’d need some serious prosthetics to get into the all white boys club. She wonders if David Cameron is a member, she googles it and discovers that he is. Turns out the British government is involved in global criminal activity, “No surprise there then” she says wittily, offering a quick wink to the camera.

Bond does his infiltration thing but gets spotted at once (“Dammit James,” curses Moneypenny from afar) and the big boss, Blofeld Rip-Off, introduces himself. Like Mr White he’s also a writer, having recently written the hit thriller “All Your Pain” (the new Jo Nesbo apparently). Turns out he was mates with Bond as a kid and both of their dads were key members of the club. Even more surprisingly is that Bond’s family fortune has been bankrolling SPECTRE for yonks. So, in a shock twist, it turns out that the Bonds have been instrumental in funding the very criminality that M16 have been paying James to stop. Turns out everyone already knew this, even M16, and found Bond’s ignorance comically ironic. “We’ve got to pay you to do something,” explains Denbigh to Bond, who is also a member (a gold member actually which gives him  access to the underground swimming pool).

The film ends, thankfully. Bond decides to tackle his midlife crisis a little differently than usual and opts not to kill lots of people. Instead he drops by Q, complements him on his new knitwear, and asks him to make him disappear. Exit stage right Bond. Q then reveals he’s married to a man (actually no he doesn’t because vaguely homosexual characters in Bond can only be psychopathic villains). Moneypenny takes over at M16 and ushers in a new era of transparency and zero-tolerance on corruption. She has to fire quite a lot of people and is gobsmacked at the sheer volume of corruption the British government has been involved in and covered up over the years (Operation Ajax being one such example). “Oh patriarchy and Empire,” she sighs as she settles into M2’s old desk chair and pours herself a big drink.

Ex-Spectre-ing Some More Sexism

Spectre, the new James Bond film will soon be imposed upon us. On 6th November we’ll be subjected to yet another shaken and stirred mess of misogyny and sexism. But before that cinematic delight let’s recap James Bond in the time of Daniel Craig, a time of strong female protagonists, normalised diversity and astute political observation – actually no, none of that.

Things got off to a goodish start (bearing in mind this is James Bond) with Casino Royale – Bond lost the silly gadgets and the objecitfying intro credits but unfortunately kept everything else, namely the sexism. Eva Green plays Vesper Lynd – a female character who is simultaneously seductress and victim (the two going roles for most women in Bond films). Bond falls in love with her (y’know to show his human side) but soon finds out she’s been double-crossing him from the start, naturally she dies (she drowned in a lift). Meanwhile, Caterina Murino does her duty as ‘second Bond woman’ – she sleeps with him, reveals some useful info and then gets strangled in a hammock. Meanwhile, there’s a load of tedious stuff to do with “high stakes” poker games, defibrillators and wicker chairs.

Onto Quantum of Solace and things were looking up. Olga Kurylenko plays Camille Mentes, a strong female character able to match Bond in terms of sleuthing and fighting ability. Furthermore, her romance with Bond consists only of a goodbye kiss. Of course, all the fighting at the end gets too much for her and she needs some rescuing. Things are much worse for Gemma Arterton’s character Strawberry Fields (reminiscent of Pussy Galore and Titty Bonanza) who goes all the way with Bond and gets drowned in crude oil as a consequence. Judi Dench does her usual bossy, mother type thing as Bond’s boss M. In terms of plot there’s some progress: it’s curiously politically relevant – the main baddy is instigating land grabs in Bolivia in order to monopolise a scarce natural resource, fresh water, whilst funding political instability in the country. This actually happens in real life. Oh, but the ridiculous opening credits make a reappearance – this time naked women in sand dunes.

Then Skyfall. It saw where the franchise could be going – slightly better roles for women and politically relevant plots – and then enforced a U-turn, taking Bond back to the 70s. With regards the portrayal of women – firstly, it’s questionable whether the female lead played by Bérénice Marlohe actually consents to the sex she has with Bond in the ‘shower scene’. Of course, that doesn’t bother Bond and minutes later she’s bound and gagged and shot in the head by the arch-villain. Naomie Harris’ character, who accidentally shot Bond off a bridge in the opening sequence, ends the film by quitting her job as a field agent and settling down to become the secretary aka Moneypenny. Judi Dench’s M gets shot in the back and replaced by Volderment…Ralph Fiennes. Oh and Ben Whishaw’s Q provides a whole load of pointless gadgets. This whole film was basically Sam Mendes giving the finger to equality because he’s a rich, white man in power who can.

What now for Spectre? Not a lot really. There’s some excitement that Monica Belluci is in it, the oldest Bond woman at 50! But she plays the widow of a spy James Bond kills, so it’s likely that Bond will sleep with her and then kill her, or she’ll get killed by one of the baddies. Léa Seydoux plays the other Bond woman. She’s 30, so will probably survive until the end. Meanwhile, Bond’s up to some mischief in Mexico City at the start of the film telling the all new, white, male M that he was “taking some overdue holiday” – well, I think it’s high time James Bond take some overdue holiday from our cinema screens…forever. Here’s the trailer – guess which plot device hasn’t already been used in a Bond film? Oh, none of them.