Dr No, Goldfinger, Scaramanga, Blofeld - the Bond films have featured a memorable cast of psychopathic villains. And now, in Quantum of Solace, we have ... an environmentalist? Even Bond baddies must move with the times, says GEOFFREY MACNAB
In 007's latest outing, Quantum of Solace, James Bond's antagonist isn't a Cold War Soviet warrior or the cat-stroking boss of a criminal network. He doesn't have three nipples. He doesn't cry blood. Dominic Greene (played by French actor Mathieu Amalric) is ... an environmentalist.
Short of re-imagining Blofeld masquerading as a folk singer, it's hard to think of a more incongruous profession the filmmakers could have chosen for a Bond baddie.
"To be green is so fashionable now," is how Marc Forster, the Swiss director of Quantum of Solace, has explained his decision to make the new villain a character at least pretending to save the world. "All these big companies and corporations suddenly use it for their advantage and say, 'Look how green we are'. But ultimately they use it to enrich themselves."
In the modern Bond era, the old certainties about heroes and villains no longer seem sustainable. Ian Fleming's James Bond was, as the author Alexander Cockburn once characterised him, "a bit of a sicko, held together mostly by his sanction from the state: licensed to kill". He was promiscuous, sadistic and very violent. However, he was also on the side of the "free" world. If he was emotionally repressed and had an inner vulnerability, this wasn't something that Fleming
or his readers were much interested in.
Now, though, the dynamics have changed.
In making the 22nd Bond movie, Forster has attempted to give the world's most famous secret agent a new emotional depth. It's not that Bond's behaviour has changed. He is still, as he is called in the new film, "a wild one, he'll light the fuse on any explosive situation and be a danger to himself and others. Kill first, ask questions later ... A blunt instrument whose primary method is to provoke and confront". The difference now is that filmmakers such as Forster and Paul
Haggis (who co-scripted both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) aren't simply celebrating his behaviour. They're trying to work out what drives him.
"I love the James Bond franchise, but in everything I've seen Bond has always been an assassin who kills, makes a quip and walks off. I can't believe that an assassin kills and it doesn't affect him in the least," Haggis says. As Bond becomes a richer, darker figure, the villains are likewise taking on an added complexity.
Amalric is the first Bond villain with green credentials.
He's clean-cut and doesn't know how to fight. (Amalric courted controversy earlier in the year by telling one British newspaper that he was "taking the smile of Tony Blair, the craziness of Sarkozy" into his characterisation of Greene, as if modern politics was where you needed to go today to find real villainy.)
so what makes a good Bond villain? The children's author Tom Blofeld, founder of the Norfolk theme park Bewilderwood, suggests that for Fleming, it was all in the names. Like his father and uncle, Blofeld went as a child to Sunningdale School, a small Berkshire prep school that groomed privileged young boys for public schools such as Eton and Harrow.
"All the leaving photos were on the walls. I found my father's face, as you do. There was also a chap called Scaramanga (the name of the villain in The Man With the Golden Gun). Four years younger was this little boy called Fleming (a relative of the Bond author)."
Blofeld's theory is that the young Fleming had some reason to dislike Scaramanga and Blofeld. "He would have been sent off to stay with Uncle Ian and conversations would have taken place as to what life was like [at school]. The answer would have been, 'It's shit because of Blofeld and Scaramanga, who are complete scum'. Fleming duly spotted the dramatic quality of the names and used them."
Blofeld's theory is lent weight by Nicholas Dawson, who was headmaster at Sunningdale for 37 years and confirms that not only did Scaramanga and Blofeld overlap, but that there was a Bond in the school rolls at the same time.
"I always believed the names came from boys in the school at that time," Dawson says of Sunningdale's post-war crop of pupils.
Did the youthful Blofelds and Scaramanga behave like future Spectre bosses and mobster assassins? "Certainly not while they were at school," the ex-headmaster says. The Blofelds, at least, didn't have anything inherently villainous about them. One, Sir John (Tom's father) went on to become a High Court judge. Another, Henry, is a well-known cricket commentator.
Goldfinger wasn't a pupil at Sunningdale; that Bond villain was directly inspired by the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger. Hugo Drax (from Moonraker) was reportedly named after Fleming's friend Sir Reginald Drax.
For the producers of the Bond films, the challenge has been to cast these villains astutely. They had to have charisma and seem plausibly evil. If they were too restrained, they risked appearing dull. If they were too extravagant in their villainy, they could teeter on the edge of kitsch.
Bond himself has many of the qualities of the traditional movie villain. When Vesper Lynd isn't on the scene, he's cold-hearted, violent and cynical. Bodies are left trailing in his wake. Who's the biggest killer in Bond movies? Surely Bond himself. One guesses that he must be responsible for more of the deaths we see on screen than Blofeld, Scaramanga and Le Chiffre combined.
He is also utterly aloof. There is an air of mystery about him. If he bares his emotions too much, that mystique will diminish. By the same token, if his antagonists become too sympathetic or turn into mirror images of him, they will begin to disappoint us too.
Ultimately, whether it is Blofeld's master criminal trying to trigger a new world war or Dominic Greene posing as an environmentalist, audiences don't want too much shade or nuance in their Bond villains. The challenge lies simply in finding fresh ways to be bad.
SCARAMANGA - Christopher Lee, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
Lee has an extraordinarily rich filmography. He was a brilliant Dracula and enjoyed a late flowering thanks to Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass. His role as Scaramanga was crucial; as he wrote in his autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome, a Bond film might transport an actor "to the fleece-lined clouds of guaranteed and well-paid work".
ELLIOT CARVER - Jonathan Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
Carver has a mild-mannered, professorial air, but he's a true psychopath. "Words are the new weapons, satellites the new artillery ... Caesar had his legions, Napoleon had his armies, I have my divisions - TV, news, magazines. By midnight tonight, I'll have reached and influenced more people in the history of this planet save God himself!" This didn't seem all that far-fetched in the 1990s.
RED GRANT - Robert Shaw, From Russia With Love (1963).
Shaw proved in Jaws that he could steal scenes from great white sharks. He did his best to eclipse Sean Connery, putting himself through a ferocious bodybuilding course and wrestling lessons for the famous train fight.
ELEKTRA KING - Sophie Marceau, The World Is Not Enough (1999).
"I could have given you the world," Marceau tells Bond, prompting his corny response: "The world is not enough." Elektra proceeds to throttle him while kissing him. She brought an elegance to her villainy that Blofeld and Scaramanga could never match.