Even if you have not, by some stroke of luck or misfortune, seen any of the James Bond films, it is very likely that you have at least heard of the franchise. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film Dr. No, and we are now on the sixth actor to take the reins of the womanising super spy. The books go back even further. In many ways how James Bond is perceived reflects how the British see themselves, and this is most clearly seen in the evolution of the James Bond films, and how our perceptions have changed with them.
For many, Sean Connery has been the best Bond to date: smooth and charming yet at the drop of a hat a cold blooded killer with deadly efficiency. In the dying days of the British Empire this was a comforting image to hold on to, suggesting that whilst Britain’s star was fading, it was still powerful and not to be underestimated despite its calmness. Roger Moore’s flicks (Lazenby’s one film stint was sandwiched between Connery’s and so for convenience will not be looked into) were increasingly outlandish in a desperate attempt to capitalise on current trends, as in Moonraker, yet onetheme remained: suaveness, unflappability, bottomless charm and the ability to do what was necessary. Despite what was considered rather silly overtones, the portrayals of an Englishman flying around the world solving international problems continued to reflect a belief that Britain was a relevant power in the new world.
When Timothy Dalton took on the role of James Bond, this perception had changed, and as a result so did the films. They became darker and more realistic, focusing less on protecting the world and more on British interests as Britain became less focused abroad and more on domestic issues. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the focus of the Bond films had to change drastically to remain relevant. The Brosnan films became a mix of the Moore and Dalton films, with outlandish gadgets accompanying more grounded issues such as international terrorism and, in the last Brosnan outing, the threat posed by North Korea.
This leads us to the latest instalment: the Craig films. If we pretend for a moment, like most of the world, that “Quantum of Solace” didn’t happen, the Daniel Craig Bond films have a radically different feel. In a reflection of what is demanded of an action hero nowadays, Bond is still smooth and full of quips but now rougher round the edges, feeling pain like an actual human being. This is a far cry from the Connery films of old, where it felt like nothing could really harm him, and this reflects how Britain sees itself today, no longer an undefeatable superpower, or a nation desperately clinging to an oldidea of empire, but tough and capable, able to hold its own on the world stage.