I was lucky enough to watch the new Bond film, Skyfall, in a rainy Birmingham city centre last Saturday afternoon. I didn’t take any popcorn in as I ate a delicious Bratwurst hotdog from the city’s Frankfurt Christmas market before going in, and I had a bottle of Diet Coke in my bag. Once in the theatre I toyed with the idea of sitting in the ultra-plush Premier seats, with their high backs and luxurious armrests, despite paying for a standard ticket. But I decided in the end that a mini-swindle of Odeon cinema, whilst not megacorporate global larceny, was not my stock in trade.
What can I say about the film? The action sequences are breathtaking, and Daniel Craig’s Bond is a realist vision of a muscular, tough, unsentimental British agent. The film has a stripped down feel with none of the kitsch of previous Bond eras, and seems to have a very contemporary subtext.
The first thing I want to talk about is Javier Bardem’s character, the former MI6 agent turned rouge. The character may or may not be based on a real person, who may or may not have a political relationship with this sceptered isle. However the character stuck me as parodic and hyperbolic. Whilst certain aspects of the character’s behaviour seemed spooky (his ‘think on your sins’ computer messages), taken as a whole the character seemed to me to be tailored to fit some kind of specification; a Bond villain that raised spectres in normal British minds about loss of empire, dwindling economic power, and a sense that the once mighty Britain is slowly being encroached into and bettered by foreign economic and political influence. Coupled with this is the fact that Bond is an agent who is not up to operational standards; a man who has private doubts about his ability to combat this talented enemy with all his multiple achievements.
I locate the debate about Skyfall into a context which also includes debates about the Shard in London. There seems to be a prevalent fear in the zeitgeist that Britain is being beaten at its own game from the inside, that British institutions are being gainfully used against the country by foreigners. At points I feel that the film echoes a subdued sense of loss which might be a meditation upon this kind of foreign activity. The eponymous Skyfall, Bond’s family estate in Scotland, is a grim, moody building. The final fight secene that happens there seems also to be a fight between some private reserve of British identity against this ultra-talented, capable, confident and experienced enemy. The film posits questions about really slow, structural, almost glacial shifts in Britain’s position on the world stage. To some extent the ending, in which Bond defats the villain, does not scan given the subtext, which suggests Britain’s days at top table are actually over, we are a country afflicted with a strange psychic moribundity, sort of like TS Eliot’s Hollow Men, living in the limbo of death’s dream kingdom and never quite acheiving anything great again.
It does strike me as a film which launches a debate very sepcifically for native Britons, about their lives. I did not feel the same sense of gloom that the film invites us to share about life in the modern world. To some extent I can’t comment in what the film means or what its significance is, as I sense this might be a private debate of some sort amongst English people. I’m not going to lie to my readers and tell them that Britain will be a superpower again, it probably won’t. I see plenty of potential for Britain to be a country with great political and ecomonic influence in the future, which might not necessarily translate into a supermassive GDP. As to why English people are feeling depressed … I don’t know. Perhaps it is simply down to how their formulate their sense of identity. Perhaps younger and more metrosexual Brits feel none of this sense of gloom. Perhaps there is a sense in this film that one idea of Britain is disappearing, and someday won’t be remembered. But does that mean that the cosmopolitan and 21st century Britain that replaces it is any worse a place?
Overall it was a very enjoyable film. I wasn’t ceratin about the way Bond’s love interest was depicted, I don’t think it sent a message that did Bond’s sense of Britain any favours. She, in all her feline Oriental seductiveness, appeared in the film for all of 15 minutes and was dispatched halfway through with a bullet. I sort of wished that Bond had played a bit fairer here, and this kind of depiction is to some extent jarring, as I wonder what female English viewers would make of that peremptory a harsh judgement for a character with some plot significance. It did worry me a little as I don’t feel it was great PR for Bond’s vision of Britain. You can’t argue you are struggling in a just struggle if you are that injudicious to your own friends.