James Bond and History

James Bond and History

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His name is Bond, James Bond! And on October 5, he celebrated his fiftieth birthday in the cinema. Become on the big screen a real mass cultural phenomenon, symbolized by his Aston Martin, his tuxedo, his sublime women and his gadgets of all kinds, he appears as a more fallible and complex man under the pen of his creator, Ian Fleming (with Casino Royale in 1953). On the occasion of the release of the last film of the saga Sky Fall, Story-for-all invites you to return to the place of Her Majesty's most famous secret agent in history.

James Bond, an eternal hero?

Everyone knows his name, everyone also knows his number, the famous 007 number, the first zero of which means that he is authorized to kill and the second that he has already done so. But what do we actually know about James Bond's character and his personality? From the novels of Ian Fleming and his many successors to the various interpreters of the British spy in the cinema, thus coexist multiple Bondian avatars who do not hesitate to contradict each other, making the character protean and prohibiting a real biography.

Certainly, there remains a certain unity between the different films and books of the double zero agent having very quickly codified themselves through identity principles of internal coherence: exotic countries, geniusly evil villains, incredible cars as well as beautiful women but also habits and preferences such as vodka-martini served in a shaker not by spooning, shaking but not shaking or even recurring characters like M or Q. But what about her personality? James Bond is above all the hero created by Ian Fleming, journalist, writer and intelligence officer during the Second World War. He is said to have drawn inspiration from a friend of his, Wilfred Dunderdale, an MI6 agent, to define the main character traits of his character who appears as an ambiguous, cruel and ruthless killer, a veritable killing machine. We are a long way from Roger Moore’s light joking winks. Therefore, if the brutality of the first blond James Bond in the cinema played by Daniel Craig came closest to the description of Ian Fleming's hero with a hard face marked by a long scar, 007 does not have a defined face. just as it does not have its own personality, each of its performers giving it a different one. Timothy Dalton, for example, sought to play a darker spy in the Shakespearean sense of the term.

Therefore, it is easier to define James Bond by his entourage and a common core of immovable qualities rather than by a definite personality drowned in the plurality of interpretations. Under cover of variations, we find characteristic traits such as virility, hedonism, irony or even patriotism. Naturally, societal changes have changed him: from the die-hard, misogynist drinker who smokes three packs of cigarettes a day in novels, James Bond has become a non-smoker and a respectful seducer. Another example: Her Majesty's secret agent is also a very great player whatever the period. Of the novel Casino Royale from 1953 where he plays baccarat to the film of the same title in 2006 where he plays poker, he has only followed the evolution of society. If the form changes, the substance remains the same to such an extent that one wonders if it is not eternal? In the end, Agent 007 would not be defined by a specific personality but more by his universe. And this universe has always used immediate history.

Geopolitics of a spy: from the Cold War to the post September 11th

The longest saga in the history of cinema, the James Bond films constantly follow and appropriate historical and cultural changes, reacting to different historical, socio-economic contexts. They thus appear as a mirror of the changes in the world of the second half of the 20th century.e century and today of the international challenges of the XXIe century.

James Bond is above all the spy evolving in the context of the cold war, of the very first film Dr. No released in 1962 echoing the Cuban Missile Crisis at Tuer is not playing (1987) discussing the question of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This cold war context, we find it even in the stakes of the space conquest with Moonraker (1979) where Bond flies away in an exact replica of the Columbia shuttle two years before its actual launch. If the first films like We only live twice rally missions from 007 to prevent a direct clash between the two blocs, the 1970s and films played by Roger Moore feature a looseness introducing the period of Relaxation. So, The Spy Who Loved Me (1979) stages an Anglo-Russian alliance in order to protect the world. With the return of tensions - the fresh war - and the hardening of relations between the two greats historically, the Soviet Union again becomes the enemy to be defeated in the saga as in the introduction of Dangerously Yours (1985) or in Octopussy (1983).

Subsequently, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a few years of absence from the cinema, James Bond finds himself confronted with a world that has changed and with new issues that continue to follow the direct news: corruption and drug traffickers (License to kill, 1989), finance and money laundering (Casino Royale, 2006), international media (Tomorrow never dies, 1997), the struggle for control of natural resources with oil (The world is not enough, 1999) or water (Quantum of Solace, 2008). After September 11 - which James Bond was unable to prevent, being a prisoner in North Korea -, it is obviously international terrorism that takes center stage when it is tackled through former countries of the United States. 'Soviet Union (introduction of Tomorrow never dies), the last bastions of totalitarian communism with North Korea and Cuba (Die another day, 2002) or quite simply from countries considered at risk by the United States such as Montenegro (Casino Royale). Most recently, the last episode Sky Fall (2012) focuses on the issue of cyber terrorism. Even the question of global warming is tackled - very summarily it is true - whether it is with the disappearance of an ice palace in Die another day or with the collapse of buildings in Venice, symbol of a future destruction of the city of the Doges under the rising waters in Casino Royale. So the James Bond films use history, but above all it is to better appropriate it and then rewrite it.

A rewrite of history in the service of Her Majesty?

During the introductory scene of The spy who loved me (1979), James Bond abandons a woman's diaper arguing that his homeland needs him. Then after a ski chase against Russian agents whose leader 007 kills, he escapes with a parachute jump opening on the colors of the UK flag. If James Bond is the savior of the world, he is above all to save the honor of the Queen and testify to British greatness. James Bond's adventures prompt reflection on Britain's international status, and Agent 007 can be easily identified as a symbol of resistance to his country's post-war geopolitical decline as decolonization brings loss of his empire. As much opposed to as associated with agents of the Soviet Union, allied with the United States which via the CIA which only plays a very secondary role of support, the films of the saga do not cease to present the British power as equal or even superior to these two states, particularly in terms of intelligence services as in We only live twice. In Tomorrow never dies, it is on the military level where the British navy is supposed to be on par with the Chinese air force and that James Bond, allied to his Chinese alter ego, narrowly avoids a conflict between the two countries. From a storytelling point of view, James Bond's passages in London allow the city to be valued around international stereotypes such as its imperial architecture with Trafalgar Square and not as a cosmopolitan, multiethnic and multicultural city. London is seen as a stable capital relative to the rest of the world, far from any political turmoil or upheaval let alone terrorist acts - it would be interesting to look into the consequences of Sky Fall on this theory -.

Both novels and films are rooted in the geopolitical and historical reality of their time, however this reality remains only very allusive and is often rewritten in order to make Britain hold a central and disproportionate place on the world stage. She is not under the influence of her big American brother but her equal.

James Bond, an object of cultural history

James Bond does not only have a relation to history, he is himself an object of history, more particularly of contemporary and cultural history. Very early on, researchers looked into his case, such as Umberto Eco devoting a study to it as early as 1965 and today the bibliography on the British spy is proving to be the most prolific. Timeless like American superheroes, Agent 007 has become a contemporary myth. By his formidable cinematographic longevity, by his socio-cultural impacts, he is a craftsman of popular popular culture made to last. So as with every movie, whatever happens, we know that James Bond will return.


- F. Hache-Bissette, F. Boully and V. Chenille (eds.), James Bond (2) 007 - Anatomy of a popular myth, Belin, Histoire et Société, 2007.

- Umberto Eco, "James Bond: a narrative combination", Communications, No. 8, 1966.

Video: Top 10 Unbelievable James Bond Facts (May 2022).


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